Netanyahu to warn coalition partners: Loyalty or elections

Netanyahu says at his birthday party that Israel does not need new elections.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
October 21, 2014 23:01
4 minute read.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara on his 65th birthday.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara on his 65th birthday.. (photo credit: GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with the heads of the parties inside his governing coalition Wednesday and threaten them that if they continue their insubordination, he will initiate early elections, sources close to Netanyahu said Tuesday.

Netanyahu is to meet with Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman, Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett and Hatnua’s Tzipi Livni to try to reach compromises on legislation and other key issues that could keep the coalition together for at least another year.

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“The last thing the people of Israel need now is an election,” Netanyahu said at a birthday celebration at the Prime Minister’s Office. “We want to continue with this government, with this Knesset, to continue leading the people of Israel along the correct path.”

Netanyahu raised speculation that he wanted early elections when he told Hatnua on Monday that he would prevent legislating the faction’s conversion bill and when he took steps to advance the Likud’s internal leadership primary. His associates said that despite his reassurances at his birthday party, he is still mulling initiating elections.

“What Netanyahu said does not mean we won’t deteriorate to early elections, which could still happen,” a source close to the prime minister said. “We will no longer accept threats from coalition partners. If they refuse to compromise, it would lead to elections.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's 65th birthday

Lapid said Tuesday that he does not believe the coalition is crumbling or that elections are on the way. He said that while he disagrees with Netanyahu on the conversion bill, there would not be a coalition crisis on the issue.

“I don’t see a reason to go to elections,” Lapid said in an interview with the Walla News website. “The government is not about to fall. The coalition is strong.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said that even if the differences of opinion in the coalition are resolved, the government cannot continue to function much longer. Labor MK Itzik Shmuli submitted a bill calling for the Knesset to be dissolved. Shmuli plans to submit 10,000 objections to the 2015 state budget, which looks to be the focus of the Knesset’s winter session.

A source close to Netanyahu said his decision to advance the Likud leadership race was not a sign that an early general election was on the way. The source said Netanyahu always wants to get party business out of the way as soon as possible.

“The party leader should be chosen quickly rather than in a long, unnecessary internal struggle at a time when other parties have already elected their leaders,” a Netanyahu associate said.

But MK Danny Danon, who chairs the Likud central committee, said he would block the prime minister from convening the committee next week to initiate a November 25 Likud race.

Netanyahu and Danon are to meet later this week to try to reach a compromise.

“Holding an election in three weeks when elections are supposed to take three months is improper and disrespectful of the Likud’s 120,000 members,” Danon said. “The Likud is in the midst of a political reawakening, and I will not let the party be paralyzed and its members silenced again.”

Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, who intends to run against Netanyahu, opposes advancing the race. He raised eyebrows by showing up at the prime minister’s birthday party alongside Netanyahu’s allies in the Likud, such as MKs Gilad Erdan, Ophir Akunis and Gila Gamliel.

In the balloon-festooned cabinet room at the Prime Minister’s Office, politicians, staff and family members sang “Happy Birthday” and presented Netanyahu with a cake. Though 65, Netanyahu made clear he had no intention of taking early retirement.

“We are about to start the Knesset’s winter session,” he said. “We will, I hope, go to many more [Knesset] sessions.”

Netanyahu’s comments were not the regular celebratory salutations of someone celebrating a birthday, as he said there will be no Jewish people without the Jewish state, and no Jewish state if it is not fortified, defended and built up.

The first task of a leader, he said, is to have foresight.

“If there is no foresight there can be no rebirth, or any significance to vision, or significance to action, or significance to anything, because in the end events will determine and control the public you are supposed to lead.”

Even though Netanyahu has already served as prime minister longer than any other Israeli leader except David Ben-Gurion, Erdan said that Netanyahu, by comparison with other notable world leaders, “was only starting out.”

“When you look at Winston Churchill – and you love to quote him – he was first elected prime minister after he reached 65,” Erdan said. “US President [Ronald] Reagan started when he was 70, and Arik [Ariel] Sharon... was elected only at the age of 72.”

As national leaders, Erdan told Netanyahu, “they only started after your current age.”

Herb Keinon contributed to this report.


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