Aryeh Deri: Israelis ‘won’t forgive’ early elections
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Aryeh Deri: Israelis ‘won’t forgive’ early elections

Interior minister says intensive talks with coalition partners have convinced him crisis can be solved immediately

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri attends a Finance Committee meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem on February 27, 2018. (Flash90)
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri attends a Finance Committee meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem on February 27, 2018. (Flash90)

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said Wednesday that he believed it was possible to resolve the coalition crisis, adding that Israelis “won’t forgive” the government if elections are held early.

“In light of my intensive talks with the coalition partners, I am convinced that the [military] draft bill crisis can be resolved. Furthermore, it can be resolved immediately,” he said.

“The public won’t forgive anyone who at this juncture leads the country into unnecessary elections and dismantles the most socially oriented right-wing government ever to serve in Israel,” Deri, head of the religious Shas party, added.

His comments came hours after United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni accused unspecified ruling party leaders of not seriously trying to solve a coalition crisis over the 2019 state budget and a proposed law to exempt yeshiva students from enlisting to the IDF.

Gafni said that he did not think the crisis should push the coalition to the breaking point but “someone” appeared to be preventing a solution that could be achieved “in 10 minutes.”

On Tuesday, the leader of his party, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, was quoted as saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was interested in calling early elections.

“The crisis over the conscription law is completely solvable. There is no reason why a solution can’t be found, but it seems that someone isn’t interested in finding one,” Gafni said at the opening of a meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee, which he chairs, regarding the 2019 budget. “There is no deep crisis here that can’t be solved.”

UTJ has threatened to vote down the 2019 state budget unless legislation is first approved exempting members of the ultra-Orthodox community from the military draft. The demand was ordered by the party’s rabbinical authority, the Council of Torah Sages, which is responsible for much of its decision-making.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (L) attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on December 24, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon of the Kulanu party has threatened to quit his post if the budget isn’t passed by next week, and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) has also declared that his party would not fold in the face of ultra-Orthodox demands.

Gafni insisted that his party’s conditions for passing the budget weren’t new or unexpected, and that any suggestion that a deal was beyond reach was making a mockery of the issue.

“We believe that those studying Torah… should receive an exemption from the army, as we have always said,” Gafni told the committee, noting that the High Court of Justice had struck down a previous bill exempting ultra-Orthodox men from serving, requiring the government to come up with new legislation.

“​To turn this into something that can’t be solved is a joke. In 10 minutes I could solve the problem. I don’t know who doesn’t want it to be solved,” he said.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, October 22, 2017. (Alex Kolomoisky)

Another key coalition partner, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the Jewish Home party, contradicted Gafni’s insinuation.

“All party leaders in the government are interested in avoiding being dragged into an election process that would waste billion of shekels for Israel’s citizens,” he said in a statement. “That’s why we are coordinating efforts to promote a law that would enable us to return to the plan of gradually drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the military.

“I’m very optimistic and I assess that at the beginning of next week we will manage to solve the crisis and continue running the country responsibly,” Bennett added.

Aside from the stalemate over the draft exemption legislation, there has also been mounting speculation that Netanyahu could seek to renew his mandate ahead of a possible indictment on corruption charges. The prime minister is under investigation in a number of cases on suspicions of bribery.

On Tuesday, senior government sources close to the prime minister said he wasn’t interested in a short-term, partial fix, but could seek a snap vote if a long-term solution is not found.

“Netanyahu’s goal at the moment is a government that serves its term to the end,” a source told Hebrew news outlets. “There is no point in a government that will fall apart in May. Therefore, without an agreement that guarantees the government’s longevity, there is no choice but to go to elections.”

Elections are currently scheduled for November 2019, but could happen as early as June should the government collapse over the crisis.

Raoul Wootliff and Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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