Amid Talk of Reelections, Netanyahu Plans - Then Cancels - Likud Meeting

Naftali Bennett: If Jewish nation-state bill doesn't pass, coalition will fall apart.

Alex Kolomoisky, Olivier Fitoussi, Amit Shaabi

With the impasse in the coalition deepening, and rumors of an early election on the horizon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planned to convene a strategic meeting Monday afternoon with senior Likud officials in case early elections were called. However, he cancelled the meeting hours before it was due to take place.

At the meet, Netanyahu was going to consult with Transport Minister Israel Katz, Interior Minister Gilad Erdan, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, and coalition whip MK Zeev Elkin.

Speculation pervaded the Knesset on Sunday that Netanyahu would fire Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah) and replace their parties in the coalition with ultra-Orthodox parties. Likud sources said Netanyahu wanted to end the partnership with Lapid but Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s distaste for the Haredi parties prevented this from happening.

One of the people invited to Netanyahu's meeting told Haaretz that, "Netanyahu's meeting was meant to deal with putsch Lapid was trying to do to the prime minister, and with ways to block it."

According to this source, "The chances that Netanyahu will decide on going to early elections at this stage are low. The objective is to raise the awareness we have in order to understand where Lapid stands at the moment. We really aren't able to understand Lapid's behavior."

"On the one hand, it's obvious that he has no chance in the elections right now. On the other hand, he is going so far out on a limb that it is not clear how he will manage to get down from them without going to elections." 

The heads of the ultra-Orthodox parties said they received offers to join both Netanyahu’s governing coalition and a new center-left one led by the Labor Party and Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.

A senior official close to Netanyahu said, "We have solid, corroborated information on Lapid's attempts to set up an alternative coalition. We got information from the ultra-Orthodox factions on negotiations with them, and yesterday these Haredi MKs spoke publicly about these negotiations. Lapid's denials in the press on this issue are inappropriate."

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett upped the rhetoric and raised tensions on Monday, saying the coalition would fall apart should the controversial "nation-state" bill fail to pass a vote this coming Sunday. The bill would enshrine in law the definition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

"When we joined the government, we demanded and signed an agreement that said they would pass a nation-state law. Yesterday, one of the sides pushed in a one-sided way. The nation-state law will pass this coming Sunday, and if it doesn't there will be no coalition - because everything will fall apart."

A senior official in one of Netanyahu's coalition partners said on Monday, "Netanyahu wants elections. It's obvious. He has already understood that the coalition won't last another year. And so, as far as we are concerned, it's preferable to go to elections in the near future and not wait another six months or year and enable Lapid to pick victories that will strengthen his position."

On Sunday, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni scuttled a vote on the bill that was due to take place at the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, postponing the debate until the following Sunday. Her move, supported by Yesh Atid, undermined Netanyahu's efforts to advance the bill and angered right-wing ministers.

Senior Habayit Hayehudi officials said that Livni had "pulled a fast one on something that had already been agreed and that was meant to pass. She is using every possible tactic to get rid of the bill, but she won't succeed."

Meanwhile, Yisrael Beitenu said Monday that the party would no longer vote in favor of Lapid's proposed law for zero value-added tax on new apartments for first-time home buyers, in an attempt to torpedoe Yesh Atid's flagship bill.