Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the heads of the other coalition parties agreed Wednesday to appoint mediators to map out disputes among the factions and develop a way to solve them. The decision was made at a meeting between Netanyahu and the ministers head his four coalition partners – Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah), Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) and Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) – following a week of growing political tension among them.
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“We have to see what the issues on the agenda are and how it’s possible to conduct ourselves and live together in this government,” the prime minister told them.
Most ministers said they do not plan to quit the government and want to preserve the coalition’s stability, according to a source familiar with the discussions at the meeting.
At the weekly cabinet meeting earlier in the day, Netanyahu stressed that “the last thing we need now is elections. The State of Israel needs a stable, strong and responsible government, and I urge all my colleagues in the coalition to work together, to continue to work together, for the benefit of the State of Israel and its citizens.”
Two recent incidents had called the coalition’s stability into question. First, Netanyahu decided to kill a conversion reform that was Hatnuah’s flagship initiative. Second, he began working energetically to move up his Likud party’s leadership primary – which, according to the party’s bylaws, is supposed to take place no earlier than six months before the general election.
Moreover, in various meetings over the past few days, Netanyahu has repeatedly said he didn’t think the coalition would survive for many months longer. But Likud officials said they had trouble figuring out whether he meant it, or whether this was just a tactic to try to persuade the party’s central committee to move up the leadership primary.
It’s not yet clear how Wednesday’s agreement to set up a mediation forum will affect Livni’s decision to try to pass the conversion reform anyway, but as a law rather than a cabinet decision as originally planned. Livni, Lieberman and Lapid all support the proposed reform, which had already passed its first Knesset reading when the government decided a few months ago to implement it via a cabinet decision rather than a law, and Lieberman has promised to help get the bill through the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which is chaired by a member of his party.
The reform is also supported by the opposition Labor and Meretz parties, which, together with the three coalition parties, might provide enough votes to pass it. But Housing Minister Uri Ariel, who heads the Tekuma faction of Habayit Hayehudi, has threatened that his faction will quit the coalition if the bill passes.
Livni and Lapid are also joining forces in an effort to get negotiations with the Palestinians back on track. But a Yesh Atid source said this “new alliance” is actually nothing new and “shouldn’t be taken too seriously.” On this issue, he said, “what was is what will be.”