Netanyahu's Party Strike Deal to Prevent Early Elections in Israel

Both Likud and Kulanu parties agree not to submit controversial bills during Knesset winter session for fear of causing governing coalition to fall

Netanyahu and Kahlon during a cabinet meeting, 2016.
Emil Salman

Governing coalition parties Likud and Kulanu have agreed not to submit any controversial bills during the Knesset’s winter session, in order to enable the government to survive the long winter term and avoid an early election.

A senior source in the coalition said Thursday that the deal means an election won’t be called in the coming year unless prompted by some external development.

“There are two external developments that could shake up the coalition,” the source said: The police investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and those against Interior Minister Arye Dery, who is also the leader of Shas. “But in the current situation, there won’t be an election in the coming year,” the source added.

Interior Minister Arye Dery. A police investigation into the Shas leader could topple the governing coalition.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Knesset’s summer term ended this week. The winter session begins in October.

Coalition chief David Bitan (Likud) and Kulanu whip Roy Folkman, who together represent the two largest parties in the coalition, met at the Knesset this week to discuss the summer term and try to learn lessons from the problems the coalition experienced during it.

One of the main conclusions was not to hold votes on bills that haven’t already been approved by all coalition parties.

This agreement calls the fate of some controversial bills into question, including the bill to expand Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries to include several West Bank settlements. Netanyahu wants to advance this bill and several senior Kulanu MKs co-sponsored it. Nevertheless, the bill’s actual wording is likely to be a source of many disputes.

But the deal doesn’t cover the bill that would define Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Though most of that bill’s provisions have already been agreed among the coalition, one is still under dispute – which would require the Supreme Court to give precedence to the state’s Jewish values over its democratic ones in cases where the two clash. Since Kulanu announced last Thursday that it opposes this clause, it’s not yet clear whether the bill will advance during the winter session – and, if so, in what form.

If the parties stick to the new agreement, this would also thwart any proposal to change the Supreme Court’s composition or reduce the court’s power to overturn Knesset legislation, since Kulanu opposes these ideas. It would also likely kill various bills to impose new restrictions on left-wing nongovernmental organizations.

The agreement stems from the fact that none of the coalition parties wants an early election. Leaders of Likud, Kulanu, Habayit Hayehudi and Yisrael Beiteinu all said this week they have no interest in calling an election, each for its own reasons.

Kulanu, for instance, is hoping that over the coming year its various initiatives to lower housing prices will bear fruit, enabling to go into a new Knesset election with a concrete achievement.