Bennett: 'All good things come to an end'

Coalition lawmakers warily welcome demise of ‘difficult’ government

Knesset speaker expresses hope for cleaner campaign season ahead of April elections; finance minister says early poll right decision to ‘keep financial stability’

Moshe Kahlon leads a faction meeting in the Israeli parliament, on December 24, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Moshe Kahlon leads a faction meeting in the Israeli parliament, on December 24, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Coalition leaders shed few tears over the demise of the government Monday, as early elections were called, amid a series of coalition legislative crises and deliberations over a possible indictment against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

At the same time, some lamented the calling of snap elections and dismantling of what has been characterized as the most right-wing government in the country’s history.

“All good things come to an end,” Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett said, after almost four years in the Likud-led government.

“I think it’s right to allow a nation that wants a strong nationalist government to choose again, so that Israel can win again,” he added.

Jewish Home party head Naftali Bennett (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) said the decision was made because it was “difficult to function right now,” adding it was the right decision to “keep financial stability.”

“We wanted elections to be held as early as possible, since the faster the process is, the cheaper it is for Israel,” Kahlon said at a Kulanu faction meeting.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Kahlon touted his achievements in the post, saying the Israeli economy was “in its best state in years.”

He also asserted that his party had had an important moderating influence on the government, the most right-wing in Israel’s history, and said any attempts to undermine democracy or the rule of law had been met with “an impenetrable wall.”

Kulanu notably supported the controversial Jewish nation-state law and settlement regulation bill, critics of which said they caused damage to Israeli democracy. The latter is opposed by the government’s own attorney general and has been frozen by the High Court of Justice, as it reviews petitions against the bill.

Kahlon noted that by the time elections are held and a new government is formed, the current government will have been in power for four years. “That’s an impressive achievement. Let’s not forget this is a government that no one thought would serve out its term,” he said.

Environment and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin agreed that the coalition “could not continue to function” after the opposition’s Yesh Atid announced it would not support the draft bill.

He blamed Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid for the need to get to early elections.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) lamented the coalition having “missed a historic chance to end the issue” of a contentious ultra-Orthodox draft law “once and for all.”

The coalition’s inability to come together on a law regulating army deferments for members of the ultra-Orthodox was seen as a main factor leading to the snap poll.

Edelstein added that the 20th Knesset had been “characterized by damaging discourse and verbal violence. I am hopeful that campaign season will be different.”

However, a leading member of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party was not enthused by the prospect of early elections. MK Moshe Gafni, head of the party’s Degel HaTorah faction, told Army Radio he did not understand “what is the point of elections if they’re saying even now that after them, the coalition will be almost the same?”

Netanyahu told his Likud faction on Monday that he was confident of winning re-election, and that the current coalition would form “the core” of the next government too.

Elections were previously slated for November 2019, and the announcement means that Knesset members will vote to dissolve parliament early. Polling has been set for April 9.

The coalition announcement came after the opposition’s Yesh Atid announced it would vote against the coalition’s bill on the military draft of ultra-Orthodox men, claiming that the government was preparing an “under the table” deal that would change the import of the legislation. The bill is opposed by some ultra-Orthodox MKs and the coalition could not achieve a majority for the bill with Yesh Atid’s support.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court granted the government a further month and a half to pass the bill, extending an early December deadline to mid-January. Without the extension, thousands of yeshiva students would have become eligible to be drafted.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset on December 24, 2018, confirming early elections. At his side is coalition chief David (Dudi) Amsalem (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Elections will likely mean a further extension will be granted.

The decision to head to the polls also comes as Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is set to begin reviewing materials to decide on possible charges against Netanyahu this week, embarking on the most high-stakes stage yet of a several-year legal entanglement that has threatened to upend the country’s political system.

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan said Wednesday he was wrapping up recommendations on three cases against Netanyahu for Mandelblit, which reportedly include recommendations that the premier be indicted on bribery charges over an affair in which he is accused of kicking back regulatory favors, in exchange for positive media coverage.

Mandelblit is expected to convene his legal team to begin working on the hundreds of pages of testimony and other evidence in the three cases on Monday, the Ynet news site reported.

Police have recommended his indictment in three probes, and the attorney general is considering how to proceed.

Netanyahu is not, however, required to step down if indicted — only if he is convicted with all appeals exhausted — and polls have indicated his Likud party would remain the largest in parliament after new elections.

AFP contributed to this report.

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