Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud MK David Bitan..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon are trying to merge the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation with the Israel Broadcasting Authority it was intended to replace, sources in the Likud and Kulanu parties said Monday.
The merger would allow victory in the dispute to be claimed by Netanyahu, who does not want the corporation to start broadcasting, and Kahlon, who insists that it will. It would also enable Netanyahu to take credit for saving the jobs of hundreds of IBA staffers.
Following a meeting between Netanyahu and Kahlon on Sunday in which they discussed the merger idea, legal advisers for the two men have been hammering out the details. But there is still a possibility that no deal will be reached and Netanyahu will initiate a general election.
Coalition chairman David Bitan said the deadline for reaching an agreement is next Wednesday, when the Knesset is set to meet for a special session during its spring recess and could pass a bill delaying the corporation’s scheduled date to go on the air, April 30.
“There is a chance to reach an agreement,” Bitan said.
“We expect Kahlon to come toward us. If we need to go to an election, we will go to an election, not on public broadcasting but on the principle that coalition agreements must be honored.”
Netanyahu and Kahlon did not meet on Monday and they are not expected to meet again until Wednesday, despite criticism from coalition party heads who have warned against initiating an unnecessary and wasteful election just because Netanyahu and Kahlon failed to reach a compromise.
“Declaring a general election now would be unreasonable and damaging,” Bayit Yehudi leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett said. “There is no reason for it. It takes a year to learn a new ministry. Netanyahu and Kahlon are grown-ups, they should sit together and resolve the dispute.”
One of Bennett’s predecessors as education minister, Gideon Sa’ar, criticized Netanyahu’s handling of the public broadcasting dispute at a scholarship distribution event on Sunday. A tape of the remarks was revealed by Israel Radio.
Sa’ar, whose wife, veteran journalist Geula Even, is set to anchor the nightly news when the corporation begins broadcasting, accused Netanyahu of failing to follow in the footsteps of the late Likud prime minister Menachem Begin.
“Having a government majority does not mean controlling judges or reporters,” Sa’ar said. “A desire for complete control is not democracy."
"We learned from Begin fundamental ideas: There’s no democracy without human rights. There’s no democracy without the supremacy of the courts. There’s no democracy without a free press.”
United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni said on Monday that although the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties are against going to an election over the public broadcasting issue, they would not block the move.
In an opening to statement at the Knesset Finance Committee, Gafni stressed that the haredi parties are not afraid of going to an election, although it has been portrayed this way.
“We are the last ones to object going to an election,” he said. “We have no problem with it. The opposite it the truth – we might even benefit from it.”
Gafni pointed out that, for a country that faces such big challenges and major problems, going to an election due to a dispute over the IBA and the IBC would be outrageous and irresponsible.
“We have been clear about it and have said that in a state like ours, we should not go to an election in the middle of a term over a move that could be solved,” he said. “But if it is decided to do so – we have no concerns and we will go to an election.”