Netanyahu in emergency talks amid coalition crisis

It appears that elections could be held as early as June, if a motion to dissolve Israel’s parliament is tabled this week.

By: Tia Goldenberg, AP and World Israel News Staff

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held emergency negotiations with key coalition partners on Sunday in hopes of averting a crisis that has threatened to plunge the country into early elections.

The political tremor comes as the prime minister battles a slew of corruption allegations over accepting gifts from billionaire friends and claims that he unlawfully engineered favorable media coverage for himself and his family.

The country’s attorney general is currently examining whether to indict Netanyahu in two separate cases. But Netanyahu has seen his fortunes improve in recent polls, with his base appearing to rally behind him amid the mounting graft accusations. The long-serving Israeli leader could hope for a successful run in early elections as way to cement his political legitimacy in the face of the scandals.

Members of Netanyahu’s government have been quarreling over whether to extend military draft exemptions afforded to ultra-Orthodox men. His religious partners say they will not vote for the 2019 budget without the draft exemptions, while a key secular partner has vowed to bolt the coalition if the budget isn’t passed soon.

PM: Coalition meeting ‘took place in good atmosphere’

“The meeting of coalition heads took place in good atmosphere. There is still no agreed-upon wording between the haredi parties. Coalition heads are waiting for their draft and after that the discussions will continue in order to resolve the crisis,” a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office said.

However, a letter Sunday by the religious lawmakers’ Council of Torah Sages, a policy-making body, rejected a compromise offer, saying there was no change in the religious party’s stance and prompting the meetings between Netanyahu and his partners. During a Saturday night meeting, Netanyahu suggested that the budget be passed this week in return for advancing the ultra-Orthodox draft bill.

Once it became clear that neither neither Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, nor Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, the deputy health minister, planned to show up, Netanyahu disbanded the meeting.

It appears that elections could be held as early as June, if a motion to dissolve Israel’s parliament is tabled this week.

A deal to save the government could still be achieved, but coalition partners were digging in their heels and blaming each other for the current crisis. Netanyahu took much of the fire.

“If the prime minister will decide to take the whole country to personal elections that will cost billions, that will paralyze the market, then that’s really serious and the public will settle accounts with him,” coalition partner and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, chair of the Bayit Yehudi party, told Israeli Army Radio.