Netanyahu enters negotiations with ultra-Orthodox parties in final effort to save coalition

Netanyahu meets Saturday night with the leaders of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties in an effort to prevent collapse of the government.

By: Adina Katz, World Israel News

Amid the heated debate over the state budget and a bill that would grant IDF service exemptions to ultra-Orthodox students of Talmudic studies, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners are negotiating Saturday night in a last-ditch attempt to prevent early elections.

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.

The ultra-Orthodox Knesset members have threatened not to vote in favor of the budget if draft exemptions for their constituencies are not met to their satisfaction. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has said his Kulanu party will leave the coalition if the budget does not pass in the next few weeks.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who heads Yisrael Beiteinu, insists that his party will not bend to the demands of his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.

“In life, there are moments in which you have to go with what you believe and not what pays. This is that moment,” he stated.

“The bill being put together now is not a compromise, but a surrender to blackmail,” Liberman wrote on Twitter. “Whoever wants to surrender to blackmail, can surrender.

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Speaking Wednesday 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.”

Beleaguered by police investigations into alleged corruption, Netanyahu has rejected assertions that he is interested in a coalition collapse in order to justify a call for early elections before the attorney general might make a decision to indict him. Polls show that if early elections were called, the prime minister and his Likud party would gain an even stronger mandate.

“Netanyahu prefers to continue the government’s work until the end of its term in November 2019,” a spokesman at the Prime Minister’s Office said. “In order for that to happen, we need all parties in the coalition to work together.”