Kahlon, Liberman threaten to quit as coalition crisis intensifies

However, both said that Netanyahu told them he will prevent early elections.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon announce NIS 150 million toward strengthening Israel's northern border on January 11, 2018.. (photo credit: YONI RIKNER)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon announce NIS 150 million toward strengthening Israel's northern border on January 11, 2018..
(photo credit: YONI RIKNER)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s finance and defense ministers both threatened on Monday to resign, as the crisis in his coalition over Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conscription and the 2019 state budget continued to deteriorate.
But Bayit Yehudi leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked worked behind the scenes with other coalition partners on compromises that could prevent early elections, such as delaying the Knesset’s upcoming recess to pass the budget, dropping Haredi demands to pass the conscription bill into law and seeking an extension from the Supreme Court on its deadline to change the law.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said he would remove his Yisrael Beytenu faction from Netanyahu’s coalition if United Torah Judaism leader Ya’acov Litzman gets his way and a bill facilitating Haredim avoiding army service passes into law by next week.
“We don’t want elections, and no one would volunteer to give up the defense minister job,” Liberman told his faction in the Knesset. “But if the bill passes into law in three readings, we would have no choice. I hope good sense wins out. I don’t see any reason to flee the coalition or to break it up.”
Liberman added that it was neither serious nor reasonable to pass such complex legislation in what he termed a “wham bam thank you ma’am” kind of speed.
Netanyahu spoke to Liberman, coalition chairman David Amsalem and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin in a conference call from Washington on Monday and urged them to take action to resolve the crisis.
After meeting with US President Donald Trump, Netanyahu told reporters that he does not want to go to new elections over the haredi conscription, but that he has” witnessed stranger things.”
Sometimes, he said, political parties do things that are not in their interest.
Netanyahu dismissed the idea that he was interested in a coalition crisis leading to new elections so that they will be held before the investigations run their course.
“I don’t think the prime minister is a magician, and if he had a solution, I think he’d use it,” Liberman said. “I don’t think he is looking to break up his government.”
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon revealed to his Kulanu faction at the Knesset that Netanyahu and his closest advisers also have called him repeatedly, taking an active role in resolving the dispute. He said he told them the 2019 state budget must pass immediately or he will leave his job.
“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 elections when the government is functioning well. Whoever wants to drag us to early elections harms our economy.”
UTJ MKs Moshe Gafni and Uri Maklev both said on Monday that compromises were being worked on, and they still believed elections could be averted. But Liberman told The Jerusalem Post he had not heard about such compromises, and his associates later said he was convinced there was no solution to the crisis and elections are inevitable.
Former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar, who will be speaking at The Jerusalem Post Conference on April 29 in New York City, said while the Haredi conscription issue is complex, he wishes Netanyahu well in solving it.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.