Netanyahu Vows to Pass Nation-state Bill 'With or Without' Support

Knesset vote on controversial nation-state bill postponed by a week; officials hope delay will give sparring coalition members chance to solve crisis.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Nov. 23, 2014.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Nov. 23, 2014. Credit: Reuters
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Despite a decision by the coalition head to postpone the Knesset vote on the controversial nation-state bill, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that he was "determined" to have it passed, with or without his political partners' agreement.

Earlier on Monday, the coalition decided to delay the planned vote on the two draft laws that make up the nation-state bill.

Faction heads Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) and Meir Sheetrit (Hatnuah) requested that Knesset members be allowed to vote as they choose – so that their party members don't find themselves in the embarrassing position of being asked to support two extreme laws.

Foreign Minister and head of Israel Beiteinu Avigdor Lieberman has also led efforts in the past 24 hours to postpone the Knesset vote, scheduled for Tuesday.

Habaytit Hayehudi faction head Ayelet Shaked said on Monday that her party is willing to postpone the vote for a week in order to try to reach an agreement that will solve the crisis in the coalition.

It is too early to tell what this solution will entail. Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah) scored a few temporary points by not having to deal with the vote on Tuesday.

But the heart of the controversy lies with the extreme bill initiated by MK Zeev Elkin (Likud). Aside for giving preference to Israel's Jewish identity rather than its democratic character, Elkin's bill would abolish Arabic’s status as one of Israel’s official languages and mandate construction of new Jewish communities without requiring similar construction for Arabs.

It is unclear whether Elkin – one of the closest people to Netanyahu – would agree to back down from his intention to have his bill approved to its full extent. It is no less clear whether Lapid and Livni agreed to vote on the softened bill presented by Shaked and MK Yariv Levin (Likud) – which also gives precedence to Israel's Jewish identity but includes no mention of the Arabic language or construction for Jews.

"All sides have achieved a week, that's the only achievement of this decision," said sources who were at Monday's meetings. "It's not like someone has a magic solution to solve the crisis, but we're working on it."

On Monday, when asked if elections are approaching, Netanyahu said: "Time will tell."

Elkin turned to Netanyahu during the caucus meeting and said: "Several coalition faction heads have requested that the vote be postponed for a week. We've always been in favor of dialog and we will study their request seriously. If the intention is to put spokes in the wheel of the nation-state bill, they won't succeed. The Likud also has an agenda and things it promised its voters. The Likud is an ideological party that will not surrender to other parties."

Netanyahu confirmed that he was ready for dialog.

On Sunday, the cabinet approved the bill: Fourteen ministers supported it and six opposed them (the five Yesh Atid ministers and Livni.)

'It's not too late to fix things'

Yair Lapid said during a Yesh Atid meeting that although it seems every day brings a new crisis, "it's the same crisis about the same subject: From the nation-state law, the zero VAT law, the JNF – it's all in effect the same subject."

"It's the old politics that is trying to return us to wheeling and dealing, to games of interests, to government corruption," he said.

"This can be fixed. It's not too late," Lapid called on Netanyahu. "We can pass the budget and calm the streets instead of causing rifts between the citizens of the country and lead the country for the good of its citizens and not at their expense."

Opposition leader and Labor party head Isaac Herzog said that "Netanyahu is endangering the most basic and existential interests of the State of Israel – with his conduct and his decisions, with the fire he's starting with irresponsible, needless legislation, with his failures in the spheres of the economy, society, security and peace."

"I'm calling on Livni and Lapid and their parties – this chapter is over," Herzog added. "The country is stuck with Bibi, understand that! Leave the government, it's a transitional government from the day it was formed – that you were a part of. It's not too late to fix things; join me and we will change course from this dangerous direction the country is heading in."

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