Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the logistics of initiating early elections on Monday, in a lengthy meeting with fellow Likud MKs Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and the minister in charge of the government’s relations with the Knesset, Yariv Levin.
Netanyahu asked Edelstein to determine whether the Knesset’s recess could be delayed by a week – not in order to resolve the current crisis over haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conscription, but to give the coalition more time to pass the nation-state bill and other legislation supported by Netanyahu’s Likud Party.
Meretz, Yesh Atid and the Zionist Union announced that they would present a bill on Tuesday to disperse the Knesset and immediately initiate elections to be held on June 26, the earliest possible date.
Channel 2 caught a picture of a text message of Culture Minister Miri Regev, who is close to Netanyahu, which she wrote in the parliament advising a friend not to leave the country because elections are on the way.
Polls taken on Channels 2 and 10 Monday night found that if elections would be held now, Netanyahu’s Likud would do very well, winning 30 seats according to Channel 2, and 29 according to Channel 10. Both polls gave the Likud a large lead over Yesh Atid, and found that the Zionist Union would fare poorly.
An as-yet-unnamed party led by MK Orly Levy-Abecasis would win five seats, according to the Channel 2 survey, which was taken by pollsters Mina Tzemach and Mano Geva. Meretz would win a surprising nine seats, according to the Channel 10 survey, which was taken by pollster Camil Fuchs.
Netanyahu was due to meet late on Monday with Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman to save his government, after he pleaded with his coalition partners to stay together in a speech to the Knesset. Yisrael Beytenu has not reached an agreement with Netanyahu about the haredi-enlistment bill that would allow Liberman’s party to stay in the coalition.
“In order to continue our great achievements, and to stand up to the great challenges before us, we need to continue together,” Netanyahu told the Knesset.
The prime minister called specifically on Liberman and the leaders of Shas and United Torah Judaism to make a greater effort to keep the coalition together, “because of the great achievements of this government and the great challenges before us.
“It is late, but not too late. We need to act responsibly. The country needs a stable government,” he stated.
A 61-seat coalition would not be stable, Netanyahu added, which means that Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu would have to stay to avoid an election.
Netanyahu said the current government is “excellent, responsible,” and “brings great achievements to Israel – and Israeli citizens appreciate it.”
MEANWHILE, Netanyahu’s advisers and senior Likud officials continued to negotiate with MKs to support holding an election on June 26, which is also the prime minister’s preferred date.
A source close to the prime minister said that there is a majority for a bill to disperse the Knesset with an election set for June 26, even though some parties within the coalition prefer a later date.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said that Likud ministers have come to him asking his faction to support the June 26 date, and said in his speech to the Knesset: “We’re not your suckers. We’re not afraid of an election.”
Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay also said that his party will not back an election bill because it’s convenient for Netanyahu; rather the party will do what’s best for Israel. However, he also said that an early election is good for Israel. Since June 26 is the earliest possible election date by law, if the Knesset is dispersed this week, then Gabbay is likely to tell his faction to support that date.
Overnight Sunday, Netanyahu and the heads of Shas and United Torah Judaism reached a compromise, enacted in part with the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voting to support a haredi-enlistment bill Monday morning.
The next part of the deal would be for the Knesset to approve the bill in a preliminary vote; then the haredim would support the 2019 state budget. Both bills would have to go to a vote this week, the last vote before the Knesset goes on its Passover recess.
THE BILL the ministers approved sets binding annual targets for haredi enlistment, which would be reviewed every one or two years. Should the targets not be met, the law would be voided and young haredi men would theoretically be obliged to enlist in the IDF, although the Knesset would have a year to pass a new exemptions law.
Yisrael Beytenu submitted an appeal of the vote, which would require Netanyahu to call the cabinet for a discussion and vote on the matter, or there will be no coalition discipline for the vote in the Knesset. Without coalition discipline, the bill is unlikely to pass.
In addition, Kulanu has said they will only support the bill if Yisrael Beytenu also supports it, which means the coalition is not likely to have a majority for the enlistment bill.
Liberman said Monday that his party will leave the coalition if the bill passes in a second and third (final) reading either without the Defense Ministry’s input and approval, or if Netanyahu fires Immigration Absorption Minister Sofa Landver for voting against the bill in earlier votes.
Sources close to Netanyahu said Monday that if Landver votes against the controversial conscription bill, he would fire her. Although there is a tradition that ministers are fired if they vote against their government, Netanyahu is not legally required to fire Landver.
Liberman called the conscription bill “a joke” and a “fake bill,” and called current plans to pass the bill in a preliminary reading this week and then change it later “a theater of the absurd.” In a meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu faction, he said the faction – including Landver – would vote against the bill.
“Being defense minister is wonderful, but values must come first,” Liberman said. “We don’t want elections, and we don’t want the government to break up, but not at any price.”
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, who bashed Netanyahu on Sunday when he thought the prime minister was initiating elections, defended him on Monday, while criticizing Liberman and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid for opposing the conscription bill.
“We said a week ago it was a fake crisis, and we stand behind that,” Bennett told his faction, while holding up a sign with haredi conscription data. “Now there is fake leadership of hiding behind polls, rather than telling people the truth. Haredi conscription is going up. The IDF doesn’t want so many haredim so fast. Liberman and Lapid know. They should tell their people the truth, even if it is uncomfortable.”
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