Early Elections in the Air as Netanyahu-Kahlon Crisis Reaches Impasse

The two met twice in an effort to end their dispute over the public broadcaster, but according to a senior Likud official, 'The possibility of going to elections still exists.'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on February 20, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon have yet to come to understandings that would end their dispute over the premier’s demand to do away with the new public broadcasting corporation, Kan, which is due to replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority on April 30.

The two met twice on Sunday in an effort to come to a compromise, but according to a senior Likud official, “The possibility of going to elections still exists.”

The senior official, who is involved in the contacts between the two ministers, told Haaretz, “The prime minister isn’t interested in elections and is examining various options to resolve the crisis with Kahlon. But the central problem right now is legal: No one has found a solution that all the parties agree on that would also get the approval of the legal advisers. If no such solution is found, Netanyahu could go to elections.”

Another Likud source said, “From Netanyahu’s perspective, he comes out the winner from this confrontation no matter what. If he bends Kahlon, he will end up with a weakened broadcasting corporation or even some form of rehabilitated IBA. If he doesn’t succeed in making the finance minister bend, he will force elections before the attorney general announces that he’s being indicted. Elections will also help Netanyahu blur the developing confrontation with the American administration about construction in the settlements.”

A senior official in one of the coalition parties who is being kept abreast of the contacts was pessimistic about Netanyahu’s readiness to compromise.

“Our impression is that Netanyahu would prefer to go to elections, but he understands that he’s stuck,” the official said. “His coalition partners have enough tools for now to block the move and prevent the dissolution of the government. [Netanyahu] could have ended this crisis in a minute, but for now he’s continuing to entrench himself in his position and isn’t being flexible enough to reach a solution.”

Both Netanyahu’s Likud and Kahlon’s Kulanu preferred not to formally address the content of their leaders’ meetings and kept the second meeting, which took place in the evening, a secret until it was over. Sources involved in the contacts said both parties want to signal that they are serious in their efforts to resolve the crisis and aren’t seeking headlines that would only intensify it.

The earlier Netanyahu-Kahlon meeting, in the afternoon, was the first time the two had met alone since the crisis erupted 10 days ago. It took place when Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism), during a meeting of the coalition party heads, proposed that the rest of the leaders leave the room and leave the two of them alone. Interior Minister Arye Dery (Shas) stayed behind for a few minutes and urged the two to come to an understanding before exiting.

The 15-minute meeting yielded no results, however, and coalition sources expressed their disappointed about the dead-end. Before leaving the meeting, the ultra-Orthodox party heads told Netanyahu that they object to any effort to move up elections.

Earlier this month the prime minister announced he was rethinking a compromise plan with the finance minister that would have seen Kan open on schedule but would have been followed by new legislation giving the government more influence over the new authority.

Over the weekend, Netanyahu instructed Communications Ministry director general Shlomo Filber to complete a draft of a bill that would rehabilitate the IBA and put Kan out of business before it goes on the air. The legislation would also ensure political control over all broadcast media outlets in the country.

On Channel 2’s “Meet the Press” on Saturday, coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) debated the issue with Kulanu lawmaker Roy Folkman. Likud is sticking by its position, which opposes Kan going on the air, Bitan said, and if Kahlon doesn’t show flexibility on the matter, elections will take place. Folkman responded that his party would oppose any delay in Kan’s launch. “You can’t change position every week and drive the country crazy,” Folkman said.