Israeli Army Draft Bill Spat Could Spark Early Elections

GALI TIBBON

GALI TIBBON

Watching Netanyahu address the Knesset the other day I found it impossible not to be impressed by his stamina and his arguments why he's the best possible prime minister of Israel and his coalition a reflection of it.

The dispute centres on ultra-Orthodox parties having demanded that the conscription bill be passed before they agree to vote for the 2019 budget. Landver was the sole minister who opposed the draft bill during a vote in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Monday, and appealed the committee's decision in favor of the bill.

On Monday, Netanyahu called for solidarity in the coalition, telling all partners, "chiefly among them Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, to remain in the government and continue this partnership to ensure security, prosperity and stability for the state of Israel".

Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he wants his coalition to last to the end of its term - November 2019 - but he also used a parliament speech on Monday to issue a challenge to his opponents.

There was some positive news for the embattled Israeli PM as he met with Lieberman and UTJ head Yaakov Litzman Sunday night to discuss a compromise: The Jerusalem Post reported that the most likely outcome was that the bill would be shelved until the summer.

But Liberman remained defiant, calling the law "absurd" and vowing that his secular Yisrael Beytenu party would vote against the legislation.

That having been said, the deal worked out is truly one of epic complexity, involving marathon - separate - meetings between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and various ministers to figure out ways to resolve the crisis and avoid early elections, including Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Shas control 13 parliamentary seats, and if they withdraw from the government, Netanyahu would lose his majority in the 120-member Knesset.

The political tremor comes as Netanyahu and his close associates are involved in at least four corruption cases. A third case has picked up steam in recent weeks.

His call came amidst looming political crisis threatening to dissolve the right-wing coalition. One poll predicted Likud would win as many as 34 seats if elections were held now.

Netanyahu spoke at length of the threat posed by Iran, whom he said wanted to build an empire, starting with the current land corridor of sympathetic governments it has built to the Mediterranean via Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Netanyahu has a chance to break the late David Ben-Gurion's record of 4,575 days in the premier's office: He would need to stay on the job until near the end of September.

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