NEW DELHI: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared in front of cameras this week and announced elections on March 17, two years ahead of schedule.

The current coalition is not workable, Netanyahu said, adding that a stronger result for his centre-right party, Likud, was needed in order for the government to function better. Minutes earlier, Netanyahu had fired two key cabinet ministers, the finance minister, Yair Lapid, leader of the large centrist Yesh Atid party, and the justice minister, Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist Hatnuah party. They were plotting a coup, Netanyahu said.

Lapid reportedly spoke of how he ordered a coffee as the country’s finance minister, only to discover by the time it was served that he was the leader of the opposition. Livni said that she spent 45 minutes at a public event with Netanyahu, only to be told a few minutes later, via telephone, that she had been fired.

Whilst the allegations of a coup being plotted by Lapid and Livni have been dismissed by commentators as far-fetched, the developments of the last few days provide an insight into Israel’s government these two years -- one riddled with suspicion and factionalism.

The catalyst for all the drama is a largely symbolic draft law -- that is likely to not pass: a bill declaring Israel the "nation-state of the Jewish people."

Last week, ministers spent four hours debating the bill, known as the nationality bill. The debate was heated -- indicated by sounds of shouting and banging on tables (the session itself was closed to the press). The bill was eventually passed 15-6, with all the six “no votes” coming from center-left members of the ungainly coalition government.

Why did this particular bill lead to the collapse of the Israeli government?

The bill came from the right-wing parties, who share an uneasy relationship with centre-left parties. The two camps have spent the two years disagreeing on a range of issue -- including Israel’s summer offensive on Gaza and budget considerations. The bill is actually three bills -- one drafted by Netanyahu, the other two by right-wing members of his governing coalition.

The Knesset has been issued a vague “statement of principles” to merge the bills. The problem is that Netanyahu’s bill defines Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state," whilst the other two bills use the more limited definition of a “democratic form of government." They also state that Jewish law shall be "a source of inspiration" for the Knesset. Further, one of the bills proposes that Arabic -- spoken by Israel’s Palestinian minority -- will be demoted from its status as an official language. Instead, it will be a language with “special standing,” itself an ill-defined term. There is also a provision that seems to encourage the expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements -- a major bone of contention for the Palestinians.

There is criticism that the bill will alienate Israel’s minorities. Lapid, citing the example of Zidan Seif -- a Druze police officer killed last month when responding to an attack at a Jewish synagogue, said, "What can we say to the [Seif] family now? That we are passing a law that would turn them into second-class citizens?"

The Ta’al party’s, Ahmad Tibi, echoing a similar sentiment, said that the proposed law implies that Israel’s identity will officially be that of “an an ethnocentric country that persecutes its minority."

The bill is also opposed on the grounds that it seems to put the country’s Jewish identity above its democratic identity. Reuven Rivlin, the Israeli president and an unlikely critic of the bill given his right-wing ideology, said, “What is the point of the proposed law? Does this proposal, not in fact encourage us to seek contradiction between the Jewish and democratic characters of the state?"

Others have also suggested that the bill was a deliberate ploy to dissolve the current coalition and seek fresh elections. Quoted by The Global Post, Amit Segal, a political analyst for Israel’s Channel 2 said, “They were merely the excuse for dissolving this Knesset. No one in Israel knows what this law is about… Netanyahu was the prime minister for six years, and he never took a step to promote these laws, so one can infer that this was merely an excuse for dissolving the Knesset."