Netanyahu Coalition Chaos Deepens As Israeli Lawmaker Debate Early Elections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alongside police chief Roni Alshiech

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on a defiant Avigdor Liberman, both defense minister and key partner in the premier's shaky coalition government, not to ditch the coalition over a contentious draft bill that would exempt ultra-Orthodox students from mandatory military conscription.

Opposition politicians and a leading member of the prime minister's coalition have accused Netanyahu, who is polling strongly of seeking snap elections as a way to bolster his standing in the event of a criminal indictment.

Netanyahu has repeatedly said he wants the coalition to last its entire term, which ends in November next year.

"If the law is passed in its current form - we're out", Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer told Channel 10 on Monday.

Some in Netanyahu's right-wing coalition suggested the prime minister was deliberately allowing the crisis to worsen to expedite elections for personal reasons.

Coalition chiefs on Tuesday evening hailed the compromise deal achieved at the last minute which seems to have solved a coalition crisis that had nearly dismantled the government, with Netanyahu taking credit for the agreement. A vote can occur as early as Tuesday evening if the committee overrules her appeal. However, to date, he has not done so and even instructed Absorption Minister Sofia Landver to vote against the bill when presented to the Ministerial Legislative Committee instead of absenting herself or abstaining.

A day earlier, Netanyahu had said that the one-seat majority he would hold if Liberman and his party bolted the coalition was "not an option".

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, in turn, said he will pull his party (Kulanu) from the coalition if the budget fails to pass this week.

"If the prime minister doesn't want elections he won't fire Minister Landver".

When probed as to how the peace process to end the conflict with the Palestinians was progressing, Netanyahu said only that the final deal would take some time, adding: "Israel now gives a high priority to its new relations with the Arab countries".

A new poll showed Netanyahu, Israel's second-longest serving prime minister, would emerge stronger from a vote despite the corruption scandal, winning three times as much support as his closest challenger.

The leadership of Yisrael Beiteinu, a secular conservative party, announced that they would vote against the bill that was hashed out by their coalition partners of Likud (Netanyahu's party) and the religious United Torah Judaism (UTJ).

The police have already recommended indicting Netanyahu in two bribery cases, but the attorney general is still reviewing the evidence to decide whether to charge Netanyahu.



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