As Israel Approaches Snap Elections, Netanyahu Allies Decry ‘Crisis of His Own Making’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is behaving "like a commentator," and "not making an effort” to solve the draft-law crisis that could result in early elections, senior coalition figures told Haaretz Sunday morning after a Saturday night meeting between the prime minister and heads of the Knesset ultra-Orthodox parties.

In interviews with Israeli radio stations Sunday morning, Habayit Hayehudi chariman Naftali Bennett said that the crisis was "imaginary," adding that it was “about Lieberman, and not about the draft itself." 

“This is the dynamic of someone seeking a new round of elections,” he charged. “If the prime minister wants elections, we will hold elections. But they will be elections called due to personal reasons and not ideological ones,” he noted.

The education minister added that he will demand the defense portfolio, and might consider running for the premiership against Netanyahu in the next election.

The meeting Saturday night concluded with Netanyahu presenting three conditions to the coalition leaders: framing a bill on the drafting of ultra-Orthodox men into the army, which would be accepted by both the ultra-Orthodox and the attorney general; agreement of the centrist Kulanu party to vote for the bill when it is presented in the Knesset, and a public commitment by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the other coalition heads to remain in the coalition.

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According to individuals present at the meeting, Netanyahu reiterated that he does not want elections, and expressed his displeasure at Lieberman’s statement that he would not support any bill that the army was not involved in framing. 

On Sunday, Lieberman said "We haven’t heard of any ultimatum, we haven’t created any crisis, and with that we aren’t ready to live with the reality that someone is holding a gun to your head. It won’t be the case, and we will only support the bill that will solidify the IDF and the defense establishment."

About Bennett’s comments, Lieberman said “I really think that there has to be a limit to all the nonsense and defamations that one can expect from a coalition member. Apparently there is someone else who is motivated by other things.”

Before last night’s meeting, sources in Likud said that Netanyahu had demanded that coalition heads commit publicly to stay in the government until the next scheduled elections in November 2019, as a condition for the current government to continue. Netanyahu made this demand to ensure they will remain at his side in the government if he is indicted.

Police recommended the attorney general indict Netanyahu with bribery in the lavish-gifts affair, alleged exchange of favors with the editor of an Israeli daily and suspicions of receiving a bribe involving favorable news coverage.

Lieberman ratcheted up his rhetoric on Saturday prior to the meeting with the coalition heads, tweeting: “In life, there is a moment where you have to go with what you believe in, and not with what’s profitable. This is that moment.” 

Sources in the Yisrael Beitenu party clarified the tweet by saying that the party was “pursuing our course of action without blinking.” On Friday, Lieberman wrote that “the current bill proposition that’s being assembled right now is not a compromise, but yielding to an act of extortion. Anybody who wants to give into extortion can do so.”

Haredi MKs presented a new draft Thursday of the contentious bill on military service by Haredi men to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. This was primarily a technical step, intended to meet the deadline required for any bill seeking a vote in the committee by Sunday. It is not known whether the coalition has agreed for the ministerial committee to approve the bill.