Israel’s political scene in turmoil as Netanyahu warns of early elections

Is Israel heading to early elections? Netanyahu has presented a political ultimatum. 

By: AP and World Israel News Staff

Israel may face early elections due to a coalition crisis, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned during a visit to the US on Wednesday as coalition members conducted a tug-of-war back home.

The prime minister reportedly told his coalition members that he wants his government to complete its full term in November 2019, and if not, elections should be held immediately.

Speaking at the Economic Club in Washington, he said, “If all parties in this coalition … agree that’s what we do, and if not, then we will go to elections now.”

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has said his Kulanu party will bolt the coalition if the budget does not pass in the next few weeks.

Coalition partners are feuding over whether to include military draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews. The ultra-Orthodox MKs have threatened not to vote in favor of budget if draft exemptions for their constituencies are not met to their satisfaction.

At the conference, Netanyahu also made light of the slew of corruption investigations against him back home. When asked what the pleasure of his job is, he jokingly replied, “investigations.”

Netanyahu later took to Facebook to lash out at the “state witness industry.”

“They take people whom they claim committed some crime,” Netanyahu said. “They place them under detention, terrify them, tell them ‘your life is over, your family’s lives are over, we will take everything from you including your freedom. You want to get out of this? There is one way only, smear Netanyahu. It’s not important if you tell delusional lies as long as you smear Netanyahu,'” he said.

This week another former Netanyahu aide, Nir Hefetz, agreed to turn state’s witness in a burgeoning corruption case engulfing the prime minister.

The longtime Netanyahu family spokesman was arrested two weeks ago as part of the Case 4000 investigation. He allegedly helped promote regulation worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Israel’s Bezeq telecom company in return for favorable coverage of the prime minister and his family by the company’s popular news website, Walla.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and has not yet been named a suspect in the case, but he was questioned by police on Friday ahead of his trip to Washington.

Israeli police have already recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two separate cases, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000. Netanyahu is suspected of accepting lavish gifts from billionaire friends and promising to promote legislation to help a major Israeli newspaper against its free rival in exchange for favorable coverage.

Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in all of the cases, saying he is the victim of a politically motivated witch hunt aimed at toppling him. He has repeatedly said that nothing will come out of the investigations.

Netanyahu said in his Facebook clip that the “obsessive chase” after state witnesses “is the best proof that there is nothing here.”

Political tensions in the country are expected to remain high until the prime minister returns from Washington, as all coalition members have stated that he holds the key to solving the apparent political impasse.