The opposition Yesh Atid party on Sunday appeared to rule out joining the Zionist Union party for a coalition reshuffle in lieu of early elections, as a coalition members attempted to heal a crisis that has threatened to bring down the government and lead to snap elections.
The comment from the centrist Yesh Atid party came amid reports that Kulanu Party leader Moshe Kahlon was in talks with opposition leader Isaac Herzog about forming a new government as ties with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu soured in recent days over the creation of a new public broadcaster.
But Yesh Atid, which would likely be key to forming an alternative bloc of at least 61 Knesset members without going to elections, indicated that it would not back such a maneuver.
“In democracies, replacing the leadership is done only through elections,” the party said in a statement. “We won’t lend a hand to tricks and backroom deals.”
Netanyahu has reportedly threatened to call early elections if his coalition refused to cancel reforms that would give state media greater editorial independence.
A long-simmering crisis escalated Saturday evening when Netanyahu backtracked on an agreement with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to set up a new public broadcasting corporation. If Kahlon refused to scrap the new broadcaster, “we’ll go to elections,” Netanyahu was reported to have told Likud ministers at his home.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin of the Likud party, considered close to Netanyahu, met late Sunday night with Shai Babad, the director general of the Ministry of Finance in an attempt to defuse the coalition crisis.
No details of their discussion were available, but after the meeting both agreed that “there was a good atmosphere and a common desire to find a solution.” They also said they would continue the discussions in the future in order to work towards a resolution.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid accused the coalition of focusing on petty politics and forsaking Israel’s citizens.
“What is this? What is this meant to be? Have they lost their minds? This is not how you run a country,” Lapid said Sunday. “The prime minister, finance minister, the senior ministers — they are all dealing with petty politics instead of what is important to citizens.”
According to Channel 2, Netanyahu told his confidants he was serious about early elections over the new public broadcaster.
“You didn’t understand me in 2014 [when he called early elections], and you don’t understand me now,” the prime minister was quoted as saying, adding that a matter “close to his heart” is the Israeli media landscape.
However, others in the coalition and in Netanyahu’s own Likud party have cautioned him against going to new elections over the issue.
Deri tries to bring sides together
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri told Channel 2 it would be “unforgivable to head to elections over the broadcaster.”
He said he spoke with coalition party leaders, including Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beytenu and Naftali Bennett of Jewish Home on Sunday. The Shas minister said when Netanyahu returns from China on Thursday, the coalition leaders will meet and “we won’t leave the room until a solution is found.”
“The people of Israel will not forgive us for going to elections” over this issue,” the minister said.
Without Yesh Atid’s 11 Knesset seats it is highly unlikely that Herzog could manage to muster the 61 lawmakers needed to form a new coalition without elections.
In 2014, the Knesset passed broad reforms that would close the Israel Broadcasting Authority and replace it with a state-funded corporation formally called “Kan” and widely known as Hata’agid (The Corporation). Despite having supported the original legislation, Netanyahu has repeatedly delayed the launch of the new broadcaster and is now trying to scrap it completely.
In the wake of Netanyahu’s threats, Kahlon reportedly contacted opposition leader Herzog on Saturday night to discuss the possibility of introducing a motion of no-confidence in the government. “If Netanyahu wants elections, we’ll have elections,” Kulanu party leader Kahlon was said to have told colleagues.
However, Herzog told Channel 2 he would try to form an alternative coalition without Netanyahu. He said there were several possibilities for putting together the required 61 Knesset members to form a new government without going to the polls.
Labor party secretary-general Eran Harmoni urged lawmakers to support Herzog’s effort to form an alternate coalition, sans Netanyahu’s Likud, without resorting to new elections.
“This is our moral and ethical obligation toward the citizens of Israel in general, and toward our voters in particular, who are hoping for change in the country,” he said in a statement.
Several Labor lawmakers seeking the party leadership in the July primaries have said they will not support the move.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.