Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to push his partners to commit to staying in the coalition for a full term, until 2019, even as Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman showed no signs of backing down Saturday night, in the coalition crisis over a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conscription bill.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the heads of the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism Saturday night. At the end of the meeting they clarified three conditions that are necessary for the crisis to be resolved. The first is a drafted agreement between the Attorney General and the ultra-Orthodox parties, which is already in the works. Second, Moshe Kahlon and his entire faction must agree to support the law through all three readings. Third of all, Liberman must publicly commit, just like all the other factions must, to allow the legislation to move forward and to remain in the government.
On Sunday he is set to meet with the heads of all the coalition parties.
Netanyahu joined the negotiations after nearly a week in the US, during which he delegated the talks to other Likud members – to no avail. Many coalition members said there was no way to solve the problem without the premier’s direct involvement.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of Bayit Yehudi also tried to bring an end to the crisis, with her own track of negotiations with the haredi parties.
The sides need to come up with a mutually acceptable draft of a bill dealing with the haredi conscription, after the Supreme Court ruled in September that their current exemption from military service is discriminatory.
The haredi parties seek to pass a law to circumvent the ruling, demanding that it pass, at least in a preliminary vote, before this week’s vote on the 2019 budget.
Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party – and to some extent Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party – want a bill that would increase haredi enlistment in the IDF, and Kahlon will not keep his party in the coalition if the budget does not pass this week as promised.
“The prime minister’s preference is to continue the government’s activities until the end of its term in November 2019 – and for that, he needs the agreement of the coalition partners,” his spokesman said.
The statement backed earlier remarks by sources close to Netanyahu that, should the crisis be resolved, he plans to ask his coalition partners to promise, possibly publicly, that they will stick together until the end of the term.
Liberman, however, hardened his position, saying Saturday night: “In life, there are moments in which you have to go with what you believe and not what pays. This is that moment.”
On Friday, the defense minister slammed the haredi parties on Twitter: “The ultimatum ‘enlistment bill or the budget’ was set by the haredi parties. The ultimatum ‘enlistment bill in a second and third reading by May or we take apart the government’ was set by the haredi parties.
“The bill being put together now is not a compromise, but a surrender to blackmail,” Liberman continued. “Whoever wants to surrender to blackmail, can surrender. Yisrael Beytenu will only support a bill drafted by the Defense Ministry and the IDF.
“There are no compromises on the matter of security,” Liberman emphasized.
Netanyahu’s spokesman denied reports that the prime minister and Liberman were working together to bring down the government and hold an election in June.
According to a report on the Walla website, the proposed terms of the new legislation, negotiated by Shaked and the haredi parties, will see binding targets for haredi enlistment come into effect in 2021, two years before their current target dates.
After this period, an evaluation of whether or not the targets are being met will take place once a year.
Should the targets not be met, the law will automatically become void, with the Knesset having a period of 12 months to legislate new ones.
And in order to increase the rate of haredi enlistment, the government will advance various measures to encourage haredi men to enlist.
MKs from Degel Hatorah, one of the two factions in United Torah Judaism, met with Rabbis Haim Kanievsky and Gershon Edelstein on Saturday night to get their instructions regarding the proposal, while Deputy Health Minister MK Yaakov Litzman of Agudat Yisrael, the other UTJ faction, was expected to meet with the Grand Rabbi of Gur Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter for his instructions.
According to a report on the Kikar Hashabbat haredi news site, Kanievsky gave the Degel MKs “a green light” to enter into discussions on the proposed legislation with the prime minister during their meeting scheduled for late Saturday night.