Negotiations on whether Israel should head to an early election reached a critical phase as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met late Saturday with his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners over the bill on whether ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students should be drafted into the army.
Sources in the Likud party said Netanyahu was expected to demand that his partners commit to remain in the governing coalition until the end of its term in November 2019.
Netanyahu's late-night meeting with ultra-Orthodox coalition members ended without an agreement on the legislation and it was unclear if Netanyahu had made the demand.
Netanyahu's demand would be designed to prevent any coalition partner from quitting the government should Netanyahu be indicted before the start of next year. Netanyahu is currently plagued by five corruption cases, in two of which the police have recommended charges.
Earlier in the day, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman toughened his stance on the draft issue, casting further doubt on a possible compromise.
Political sources say the prime minister was expected to demand a solution to the bill on the draft and a halt to any legislation regarding religion and state until the next election.
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Before leaving for Washington a week ago, Netanyahu was asked if the issue would end up in an early election. “There is no reason for this to happen – with some goodwill it doesn’t have to happen,” he said. “I have the will and I hope my coalition partners have the same goodwill.”
The bill that would shield ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students from the draft has stoked disagreements between government officials that have been accompanied by threats not to pass the state budget.
The leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties have said they will not support the budget if their version of the bill on the draft is not approved first.
Knesset members from centrist party Kulanu are also refusing to compromise, saying their party will not compromise and will not agree to link passing the budget to the approval of the draft bill proposed by the ultra-Orthodox parties. Kulanu's leader, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, has said that if the budget does not pass as planned, his party will leave the government, thereby toppling it.
Leading up to a meeting with ultra-Orthodox parties Saturday night, Lieberman tweeted: “In life there is a moment where you have to go with what you believe in, and not with what’s profitable. This is that moment.”
Sources in his Yisrael Beiteinu party clarified the tweet by saying the party was “pursuing our course of action without blinking.” On Friday, Lieberman wrote that “the current bill proposition that’s being put together right now isn’t a compromise but rather yielding to an act of extortion. Anybody who wants to give in to extortion can do so.”
Last Sunday, the daily Hamodia, which is associated with the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Yisrael party, one of the two parties comprising United Torah Judaism, quoted Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of the UTJ.
As the paper put it, Litzman said “the council of Torah sages has instructed us to get the bill passed before the budget is approved, therefore I cannot do otherwise.” Litzman said he expected all his coalition partners to support the bill on the draft if they wanted the coalition to survive, the paper wrote.