Israeli Snap Elections Averted: Netanyahu Says 'I Kept My Promise'

Political sources believe Netanyahu worked toward a solution after coalition partners made clear they object to June elections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset, March 12, 2018.
Emil salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party announced Tuesday that the coalition parties reached an agreement to prevent snap elections.

>>Explained: Why Israel just came 'this' close to snap elections

Netanyahu addressed the Knesset shortly after the announcement, saying that he fulfilled his promise to avoid dissolving the current government. He also thanked his coalition partners for "showing responsibility" in reaching the agreement.

A preliminary version of the conscription law exempting draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students from the draft was passed in the Knesset by a vote of 59 to 38. 

The bill will now go to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The Knesset is now discussing the state budget bill ahead of the final vote that will make it law.

The compromise had called for a proposed bill to be voted on in a preliminary vote by the full Knesset on Tuesday evening, and for all of the members of the coalition factions vote as they choose.

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Each faction chairman was to inform the coalition whip, David Amsalem, within a half hour as to how the faction will vote. The Yisrael Beiteinu party announced previously that it would vote against the bill.

At the end of consultations, the heads of the ultra-Orthodox factions announced that they would agree to a free vote, without coalition discipline, on the conscription bill. The party heads said that, despite opposition, the bill is expected to be approved on the preliminary vote, which requires three more votes to become law. Kulanu party chairman Moshe Kahlon gave his faction's Knesset members the right to vote as they see fit.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman responded to the compromise by tweeting, “A promise is a promise! The proposal we insisted on all along has been accepted in full.” He then listed the party’s achievements, which he defined as follows: His Yisrael Beiteinu party will vote against the conscription bill proposed by the ultra-Orthodox, a Defense Ministry task force will propose its own bill on the issue, and all legislation on issues of religion and state will be frozen.

Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett welcomed the deal, tweeting: "Common sense has won out. The national interest has prevailed. I congratulate the members of the coalition who were partners to the solution to this crisis." Bennett had taken Netanyahu to task recently for what he said was his failure to attempt to resolve the dispute, calling it a "fake crisis."

Avi Gabbay, the chairman of the opposition Zionist Union, expressed disappointment that elections, which must be held by November 2019 will not be moved up. "Today we have discovered who is really afraid of elections," he said. In a Facebook post, Gabbay wrote: "It's painful, just painful that the elections have been cancelled. The bad news is that the situation will not remain as it is but instead will get worse. We, the citizens of the country, are the losers from the cancellation of early elections."

The Knesset later voted down several opposition proposals to dissolve the parliament. Before the crisis was resolved, those proposals had been widely expected to receive support from the coalition parties, and thus to result in early elections.

According to coalition sources, Netanyahu's pivot was because he did not believe he would secure a majority to dissolve the Knesset and hold elections in late June. Lieberman and Kahlon made clear to Netanyahu in private meetings on Tuesday that they object to snap elections in June.

>> To Bibi or not to Bibi: Does Netanyahu want early elections? | Analysis <<

Earlier Tuesday, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, a key partner in Netanyahu's ruling coalition, called the current political crisis "fabricated" and warned Netanyahu that toppling the right-wing government would be a "historic mistake."

In a tweet Tuesday morning, Shaked wrote: "This is a fabricated crisis. Mr. Prime Minister, to topple a right-wing government over nothing would be a historic mistake of dimensions similar to the fall of the Shamir government in 1992."