Israel will not be going to an early election in June and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government could last into 2019, pending a decision by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on whether to indict him.
This comes after Netanyahu and his coalition partners agreed on a deal on Tuesday to resolve a coalition crisis.
Sources close to the prime minister said he decided against pursuing an election because of two key developments. First, he failed to obtain the support of enough MKs for a June election, with only Yesh Atid, Meretz and part of the Zionist Union joining most of the Likud. Netanyahu had wanted an election that would be as close as possible to spring celebrations of the state’s 70th birthday and as far away as possible from Mandelblit’s decision on an indictment.
The second reason was that a Channel 2 poll found that 54% of Israelis oppose an early election and that a new party headed by MK Orly Levy-Abecassis could have an easier time making it into the next Knesset than two of Netanyahu’s current coalition partners, Yisrael Beytenu and Shas.
“If one of the parties in our bloc does not cross the [3.25%] electoral threshold, it endangers the rule of the Right,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying in closed conversations.
The sources also denied that one of the reasons he decided against an election was that world leaders would not attend the Independence Day celebrations if they took place in the middle of a campaign.
After the deal was reached, Netanyahu went to the Knesset plenum and declared victory from the podium. He said the coalition is doing the responsible thing and not calling an early election, for the good of Israel.
“I said yesterday that I will make a last-minute great effort to maintain the good government that I lead, a government that has reached great achievements for Israeli society. I made a promise, and I kept it,” Netanyahu said.
The prime minister thanked his coalition partners for “showing responsibility” so they can continue working on “security, economy, society, foreign relations.”
“It’s very important that we decided together to continue together for the good of the country,” he said.
Netanyahu mocked the opposition: “You were scared for a minute! I know I spared you great distress, because if there was an election, I’d be back here, and you’d be commenting from there,” he pointed to the opposition seats, “because the public support for us is tremendous. We are going back to work for our nation and country.”
The prime minister also thanked Yariv Levin, the minister in charge of liaison between the Knesset and the government, for his involvement in the negotiations despite being ill for more than a week.
Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, who pushed for two weeks to prevent an election, wrote on Twitter that “common sense won and the national interest prevailed.”
Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay said the decision proved Netanyahu was afraid of elections and that he had “escaped the judgment of the public.”
Meretz leadership front-runner MK Tamar Zandberg accused Zionist Union lawmakers of collaborating with the Likud to prevent an election.
According to the deal, the coalition prevented the passage of the opposition’s bills to disperse the Knesset, a controversial haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conscription bill passed in its first reading, and the 2019 state budget was set to pass into law in its final readings on Tuesday night.
Aliya and Integration Minister Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beytenu) was permitted to vote against the draft conscription bill, and Netanyahu will not fire her. The parties in the coalition decided to permit a one-time violation of coalition discipline. The draft bill will be changed in coordination with the Defense Ministry before it is further legislated after the Knesset’s extended spring recess.
The final written part of the deal is that the coalition will support the Likud-sponsored Nation-State bill and advance its legislation after the budget passes. But the deal also reportedly includes quiet commitments from United Torah Judaism to not submit more bills on matters of religion and state, and from all coalition parties to not topple the government in the near future.
Earlier on Tuesday, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, in a message on his Facebook page, urged Netanyahu not to initiate an early election.
“As long as Minister Landver is not fired and the defense system is given an opportunity to draft a new conscription bill that will be introduced when the Knesset returns from its upcoming recess, a new election can be avoided,” Liberman wrote. “The people of Israel do not need an election, which would go against the electoral interests of Yisrael Beytenu and the personal interests of Avigdor Liberman.”
Meanwhile, due to the possibility that a national election might held soon, Meretz leadership candidate Avi Dabush dropped out of the race and endorsed Zandberg in the party’s March 22 primary.