Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in Tel Aviv, Israel February 14, 2018.
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed hope that his coalition will remain intact, in an onstage interview at the Economic Club of Washington on Wednesday.
Netanyahu addressed the crisis over ultra-Orthodox conscription and the 2019 state budget that has threatened to bring down his government.
“What I want is to be able to complete the term of this government in November 2019,” Netanyahu told interviewer David Rubenstein of Bloomberg, who is the president of the club. “I have been speaking to all my coalition partners. If all the parties agree, that is what we will do. If not, we will go to new elections.”
Netanyahu’s associates explained that his message to his coalition partners was that for him to get involved and resolve the crisis, they must guarantee to him that they will not bring down his government prematurely even after the current crisis is resolved; otherwise, there is no point in solving it. Channel 2 quoted sources close to the prime minister revealing that Netanyahu was seeking that commitment even in the case of an indictment.
Later on Wednesday, on his way from Washington to New York, Netanyahu added that he is not interested in having an election, but he will if the coalition partners do not come to some kind of agreement on the haredi conscription issue.
“I am not willing to dribble this on into the future,” he said.
Netanyahu said that he wants the sides to come to the widest possible agreement on the issue. He said it would then be accepted by the attorney-general and would hold up in the High Court of Justice.
The partners in the coalition also expressed hope that solutions could be found, in public statements on Wednesday.
“After the intensive talks I have been conducting with all the coalition partners, I am convinced that the crisis over the conscription law is solvable,” said Shas chairman Arye Deri. “It can be solved immediately. The public will not forgive whoever leads Israel to an unnecessary election and breaks up the most right-wing and socioeconomically focused government Israel has ever had.”
United Torah Judaism is made up of two parties that have different points of view on the issue. Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, head of Agudat Israel, has not expressed willingness to compromise, but Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni, leader of Degel Hatorah, has.
“There is no reason a solution cannot be found to the crisis,” Gafni told members of his committee at a meeting on Wednesday. “To say that it cannot be solved is laughable. I can solve the problem in 10 minutes. I don’t know who doesn’t want to solve it.”
Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett said a solution to the crisis is almost complete. But he said “it takes five [parties] to tango” in the current coalition and that there are coalition partners who still want to put on a show for their voters.
“The heads of all the parties in the government want to avoid being dragged into an election that would waste billions of shekels of the citizens’ money,” Bennett said. “Therefore we are working to advance a bill that would enable the gradual conscription of more ultra-Orthodox. I am optimistic this can be resolved by Sunday’s meeting of coalition party leaders.”
According to a report on Channel 2, the attorney-general and former Shas MK Ariel Attias have formulated a proposal for legislation that would leave in place the targets for haredi conscription that were previously legislated but are currently nonbinding.
This would mean that significant and increasing numbers of young haredi men would still need to be conscripted every year, while the majority could continue to study in yeshiva and not be drafted.
If these targets are not met, however, the law would be automatically annulled, meaning that all young haredi men, regardless of whether they are in yeshiva, would need to be drafted into the IDF.
The Councils of Torah Sages of Degel Hatorah, Agudat Yisrael and Shas will all need to approve the bill in order for the haredi parties to be able to agree to it.Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.