Coalition talks at impasse as Netanyahu threatens new elections
While Liberman insists on Haredi draft law remaining intact, UTJ declares issue is in hands of 'spiritual leadership' and therefore compromise out of question; PM could settle for fragile 60-MK government, urge opposition members to defect
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a Knesset meeting Sunday that he doesn’t want the country to be dragged into new elections in light of the dead-end in coalition talks, but that "perhaps there is someone who desires it to happen," referring to Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman.
Netanyahu found himself at an impasse in negotiations to establish a new government before the deadline of midnight on Wednesday, May 28, after a meeting late Saturday night with MK Yariv Levin, head of the Likud negotiation team, ended with no conclusions.
The key issue on which Netanyahu's coalition partners cannot agree on is the Haredi draft law, set to determine quotas for ultra-Orthodox draftees to the IDF. Liberman firmly objects any changes to the law and the set quotas, while the ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism rejects the law entirely.
Lieberman slammed the ultra-Orthodox parties and Netanyahu for the dead-end in coalition talks on Saturday, writing in a tweet that he "doesn't fear re-elections" if an agreement isn't reached by Wednesday. Israel last held elections on April 9.
Liberman said he rejects any alteration to the current version of the draft law, but offered a compromise, saying that the ultra-Orthodox could choose to be absent from the draft law vote as long as all other coalition partners agreed to vote for it in the Knesset.
"The moment that this happens, we'll have a rightist government rather than a Haredi government," Liberman said. "We're pro-Jewish state but against a halachic state," he said referring to the religious Jewish law.
"Accept our offer, otherwise we'll go for elections," he said.
Sources in the Likud Party said that "if Liberman keeps insisting on ending this government," they are ready for re-elections and have started preparing for it.
However, they further said that Netanyahu is working on a solution that would allow the establishment of a rightist government and the legislation of the draft law.
Liberman also criticized Netanyahu over the weekend, saying that "right doesn't mean personality cult, it means a set of values and army service will always be a top value for the national camp."
United Torah Judaism said in response to Liberman's declarations on Saturday evening that they don't agree to draft quotas being mentioned in any coalition deal, and that "it's the principle, not a political matter" for them.
"This is a decision by the spiritual leadership, it's not a matter we can vote on in the Knesset," the ultra-Orthodox party added, referring to the Rebbe of Ger, leader of an extreme Hassidic court who is demanding the draft law be changed.
If neither the ultra-Orthodox nor Liberman agree to a compromise, Netanyahu could assemble a coalition of just 60 MKs, but will not have a majority in the Knesset and is unlikely to last long. However, it could put pressure on Liberman to join the government at a later stage to prevent it from disintegrating, something which he did in 2015.
Another option is for the Likud Party to add two or three opposition members who would defect to coalition lines.
A third option is re-elections, an unprecedented case in Israeli history that Netanyahu doesn't desire.
A final option is for President Reuven Rivlin to grant an MK from the opposition, or a different MK from the Likud, the opportunity to assemble a government. However, both of these scenarios are unlikely.