Israeli PM avoids early elections over ultra-Orthodox draft

Israeli PM avoids early elections over ultra-Orthodox draft

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.

In a meeting late Sunday, ultra-Orthodox factions told Netanyahu they would agree to support the budget if the military conscription bill passed a ministerial committee and an initial parliamentary reading, postponing a final vote until the summer session.

The political crisis comes as Netanyahu is battling a series of corruption allegations.

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.

Lieberman, Yisrael Beteinu's leader, said that all five MKs [Members of the Knesset] from his party would vote against the revised bill.

But polls are unreliable and it's, therefore, unlikely that they alone would have made Netanyahu decide to have early elections.

A number of votes must occur before the end of the week to greatly lessen the chances of early elections. 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.

Right-wing and religious parties in the government are divided over the framing of a bill that would protect the exemption ultra-orthodox men have traditionally enjoyed from compulsory military service. The court gave Parliament a year to pass a new law.

Meanwhile, Kulanu party chairman and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon had threatened to resign unless the budget was passed this week.

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.

Under Tuesday's compromise, the five-seat secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, which opposed the bill, will be allowed to vote against it.

Netanyahu's opponents have been calling on him to resign since police recommended February 13 that he be indicted on bribery and fraud charges in two influence-peddling cases; police are still investigating a third case in which several former close aides have agreed to testify against him.

But it is only one variable in a complicated political dance involving the haredi parties, Israel's colorful defense minister, the 2019 budget and the possibility that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be indicted on corruption charges.