Netanyahu in Last-ditch Effort to Salvage Coalition

After meetings with key allies the prime minister is expected to decide whether to call for early elections; Livni to call on Netanyahu to abort 'extreme legislation' as token of seriousness.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, November, 2014.Credit: AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold a series of meetings in the coming days in a last-ditch attempt to salvage the coalition and stave off elections, sources close to him said on Sunday.

Netanyahu met with Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday, and on Monday he is scheduled to meet with Economy Minister and Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, Finance Minister and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and Justice Minister and Hatnua chairwoman Tzipi Livni.

According to estimates, Netanyahu will decide over the next couple of days whether to call for early elections.

The officials reiterated Netanyahu's scathing criticism of his coalition partners, and said he will not accept a situation in which "ministers attack their own government as if they were in the opposition." The officials also accused Lapid of "trying to oust an incumbent prime minister."

The officials added that Lapid "also broke his commitment to add billions in funds to the defense budget for advanced weapon systems and training, and instead the money was taken for national projects that were supposed to be funded by the Finance Ministry, like moving the IDF bases to the Negev. The prime minister is expected to tell Lapid he cannot continue to accept his and his party's conduct. This is no way to run a country."

At the same time, Hatnua Chairwoman Tzipi Livni said in talks behind closed doors that she plans to call on the prime minister to abort the series of extreme bills the coalition is promoting as a token of the seriousness of his wish to preserve the current government and stave off elections.

Livni is expected to present the demand to Netanyahu in their meeting on Monday. Livni said that "if the prime minister really wants to stave off elections, he must rein in the extremists and halt the extreme, anti-Zionist, harsh, and populist legislative initiatives. This is the test. If he doesn't, there's no way out of elections."

As far as is known, Livni means the extreme version of the Jewish nation-state bill drafted by MK Zeev Elkin, the bill to revoke the residency of family members of East Jerusalem terrorists promoted by the interior minister, and the Hanin Zoabi bill, which would allow MKs to oust lawmakers who expressed solidarity with a terrorist organization or an enemy state. 

Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu said he would "draw conclusions" if the “threats, dictates and resignation threats” by cabinet members continued.

“Unfortunately, not a day passes without threats, dictates and resignation threats, with ministers attacking the government and the prime minister,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

A key factor in the possibility of early elections is the stance of the three ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset. Netanyahu has asked them to support him or at least not join a coalition without his Likud party after an election.

But the leader of ultra-Orthodox party Shas, MK Aryeh Deri, has said his party would be loyal to Netanyahu before an election but wasn’t yet ready to talk about coalitions afterwards.

In attempts to ease tensions and forestall an election, Netanyahu has offered a compromise on the Jewish nation-state bill; he was expected to send out a memo to relevant ministries on this issue Sunday so it could be discussed in the Knesset or Ministerial Committee for Legislation next Sunday.

But over the weekend, tensions between Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid worsened, over issues including the nation-state bill. "Everything is stuck and the prime minister just stands on the side," Lapid said on Saturday in a blistering attack on the premier.

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