A bill pushed by religious parties but fiercely opposed by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was given an initial okay by the Knesset late Tuesday, following a last-minute compromise deal that ended the worst coalition crisis since the current government was formed in mid-2015.
The Knesset plenum voted 59-38 in favor of the bill, which would exempt ultra-Orthodox seminary students from the military draft. It was the preliminary vote of a version of the bill proposed by MK Yoav Ben Tzur of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, and its successful advance in the plenum officially secured the 11th-hour agreement.
Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party members voted against the bill, after the Ministerial Committee for Legislation earlier granted coalition party leaders freedom in instructing their faction how to vote without repercussions, essentially staving off the coalition’s collapse.
According to the agreed deal, the conscription bill will now be frozen until the Knesset returns from its recess in mid-April, when a government bill drafted by the Defense Ministry will be proposed and merged with the Ben Tzur bill, taking the army’s personnel needs into account as the Knesset takes up once again the question of ultra-Orthodox draft exemptions.
Infighting over the enlistment bill during the past week had pushed the government to the brink of elections, with parties issuing competing ultimatums.
The ultra-Orthodox threatened to torpedo the 2019 state budget if the conscription bill did not pass on preliminary reading this week, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon had threatened to quit if the budget is not passed.
In accordance with the deal, the budget is also now set to be approved by the Knesset plenum.
The compromise stipulates that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will refrain from firing Yisrael Beytenu minister Sofa Landver, who on Monday appealed the approval of the conscription law by a ministerial committee.
According to precedent, a sitting minister can’t vote against a government ministerial decision. However, according to Tuesday’s deal, ministers will request that the prime minister not fire her and guarantee it was a one-time incident.
Earlier, senior sources in the coalition were quoted by multiple news outlets as saying Netanyahu had decided not to dismantle the government, having gotten “cold feet.”
Some had accused Netanyahu of seeking early elections as a way of clinching another mandate before a possible bribery indictment.
Liberman on Monday had threatened to quit the coalition and thus usher in new elections.
But he softened his tone on Tuesday. “If Minister Landver isn’t fired from the government and the defense establishment is allowed the possibility of drafting a new bill that’ll be brought for Knesset approval in the summer session, it’ll be possible to avoid fresh elections,” Liberman wrote on Facebook.
Polls released by Israel’s main news channels Monday night showed Yisrael Beytenu barely squeaking into the Knesset.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.