Compilation photo of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UTJ leader Yaacov Litzman.
(photo credit: MARC SELLEM/YOEL LEVI)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United Torah Judaism leader Ya’acov Litzman engaged in mutual recriminations on Tuesday night, accusing each other of forcing an unwanted election over ultra-Orthodox conscription.
Earlier this week, politicians speculated that Netanyahu and Litzman had conspired to create a fake crisis and let Litzman be the fall guy for initiating an election that Netanyahu wanted due to his intensifying criminal investigations. Both sides vigorously denied that theory on Tuesday as their rhetoric became increasingly fierce.
“We will be going to an election, because Netanyahu wants it and is not making enough of an effort to present a framework for a solution and end the crisis,” Litzman said in closed conversations. “We don’t want an election, but we will not hesitate to go the polls if the anti-conscription bill is not passed before the  state budget.”
Netanyahu’s associates rejected Litzman’s accusations. The prime minister sent messages to his coalition partners through his chief of staff Yoav Horowitz that Netanyahu truly does not want an early election, even though his Likud Party is doing well in the polls.
The coalition crisis revolving around haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conscription could well bring down the government, Netanyahu hinted on Monday. At a briefing with reporters after meeting with US President Donald Trump, he said, “I want to come to an agreement that will enable the government to fulfill its term until November 2019, but at the present time I can’t say that this goal is achievable.”
The prime minister said that he, and even more so Horowitz, have been dealing with the crisis since arriving in the US on Sunday, and have had frequent conversations with Litzman and other coalition partners.
Netanyahu dismissed the notion that he is interested in a coalition crisis in order to give him a reason to call an early election before Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit makes a decision to indict him in any of the various corruption investigations under way.
“This is simply not true,” the prime minister said. “We are trying to solve it [the coalition crisis]. If there is goodwill, we will solve it; if not, we won’t. I have goodwill.”
A MESSAGE sent from Netanyahu on Tuesday that said he does not want a stopgap solution and will only accept a compromise that would enable his government to last into 2019 was seen as criticism of Bayit Yehudi leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, who are working from Washington on a plan to settle the dispute.
Shaked has been drafting a new haredi conscription bill based on legislation former Shas minister Ariel Attias proposed in the past. Shaked has proposed to get coalition backing for her bill in Sunday’s meeting of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, which she heads, and then pass the 2019 budget into law later next week.
The proposal of Shaked and another compromise being worked on by former coalition chairman MK David Bitan (Likud) will be brought to the rabbis of UTJ and Shas for approval. The MKs will make clear to the rabbis that if they reject compromises, an election will be set.
Litzman threatened on Sunday that if the bill does not pass into law before the Knesset leaves for its spring recess on March 15, he will quit the government.
But since then, it has been pointed out that it is not possible to complete the legislative process before the recess begins. According to one compromise idea, the conscription bill will pass in one reading and its legislation will be completed later on. Meanwhile, UTJ would vote for the 2019 state budget and allow it to pass into law.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon threatened for the second day in a row on Tuesday that if the budget does not pass soon, he will remove his Kulanu Party’s 10 MKs from the government and initiate an election.
“I don’t see how I could continue to function as finance minister if the budget doesn’t pass,” Kahlon said. “Will I tell the elderly and the handicapped I don’t have their money due to the haredi conscription law? It was a mistake to connect the draft bill to the budget. There is no reason to go to an election when the government is functioning well. Whoever wants to drag us to an early election harms our economy.”
Meretz leadership candidates Tamar Zandberg and Avi Buskila called upon Kahlon to stop issuing threats and quit the government. Buskila said Kahlon’s threats do not impress anyone anymore.
“This government has lost its moral standing and every day that Kahlon keeps the government going, he maintains a refuge for the guilty,” Zandberg said.