Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he is not interested in holding early elections now and wants to continue with the present government coalition until the end of the full Knesset term. Netanyahu made the comments concerning the political battle over the passage of the new draft law at the weekly meeting of the heads of the government coalition parties.
The new version of the draft law would impose a series of civil sanctions such as revoking various government benefits while at the same time providing incentives to those who choose to enlist, such as raising their living allowances and paying for college degrees as if they had completed full army service.
Netanyahu also commented on the “Jewish Nation State Law” at the meeting after Tourism Minister Yariv Levin reached understandings with most of the coalition parties on the bill. Levin has yet to reach agreement on all the details before the vote on the law scheduled for Monday next week.
“This law is important to us,” Netanyahu told the party leaders. “Just as there are laws important to you. I respect this and you should also respect that this law is very important to us.”
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In a reference to the military conscription bill, which passed its first reading last week but which the ultra-Orthodox [Haredi] parties oppose, Netanyahu stressed that he isn’t interested in an early election at this time. The bill advanced last week because the Yesh Atid party voted in favor of it from the opposition, even though the Haredi MKs voted against it. Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism said his party would quit the coalition if the bill became law.
Meanwhile, intense negotiations are continuing over the nation-state bill. The committee for advancing the bill through the Knesset is meant to meet Tuesday to approve a final version, but that hearing could be postponed if no agreement is reached on certain clauses by then.
“There’s a 50 percent chance that we’ll succeed in reaching understandings in the next few days. That’s a higher chance of passing the law than we’ve had until now,” said a source involved in the legislative process.
The coalition partners are seeking to amend three more sections of the nation-state bill: the section that permits the establishment of towns for Jews only; the section that reduces the status of the Arabic language from “official” to “special”; and the section instructing judges to look to precedents from Jewish legal rulings in instances where Israeli law offers no guidance.
It is believed that the section allowing for Jews-only communities will be seriously watered down or eliminated because Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit vehemently objects to it, believing it to be unconstitutional.
MK Hamad Amar of Yisrael Beiteinu is leading the fight against the section that undermines that status of Arabic. It isn’t clear whether the bill’s wording will be changed, or whether Amar will simply be given the right to vote his conscience while the rest of his faction votes in favor.
The clashes over the “Jewish law” clause are also unresolved. MK Amir Ohana from Likud, who chairs the committee for advancing the nation-state bill, said he would not allow this section of the bill to remain, even though only a few months ago the Knesset approved a similar clause in the Foundations of Law Act. Observers say the committee members will eventually support a more moderate wording, assuming that MK Nissan Slomiansky insists on the section being included.
The nation-state bill passed its first vote in May, after the removal of a controversial clause that would have forced the courts in their rulings to subordinate the democratic nature of the country to its Jewish nature in cases where the two sets of values clash. Removal of the clause was considered a victory for the Kulanu party over the bill’s sponsors, Likud MKs Yariv Levin and Avi Dichter.
Sources in Kulanu said Sunday that they intend to support the bill and hope to introduce additional changes. “The Kulanu outline that was approved in first reading was the basis for discussions: There is no priority for the Jewish identity of the state over its democratic identity,” said a source in the party. “This principle issue has been taken care of and our position was accepted, so we support the law. There are general amendments that were raised by the committee and when we reach a final version it will be a done deal.”
Ohana told Haaretz, “We are making feverish efforts to bring the coalition parties to an agreement. We will make sure that the nation-state bill will be a meaningful bill that will bring good news to the Jewish people’s only nation-state.”