Knesset set to vote to disband as PM’s ‘final offer’ to resolve crisis rejected

Netanyahu proposes advancing enlistment bill with ‘mutual consent’; Liberman snubs bid and Litzman responds angrily, as Israel appears poised to go to elections

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman sits at a faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman sits at a faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday night issued his “final offer” to Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu and the ultra-Orthodox parties on the contentious enlistment bill, which was promptly turned down by the key prospective coalition partners and drew an angry response from some of the premier’s longstanding Haredi allies.

The rejection paved the way for the dissolution of the Knesset and new elections on September 17 — an unprecedented second election in a matter of months — with the final votes to disband parliament set for 11:30 p.m. and the outcome of the late-night vote yet unknown.

Hours before a midnight deadline to form the coalition, both the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Yisrael Beytenu turned down Netanyahu’s offer that would have advanced the Defense Ministry version of a bill regulating the draft of the ultra-Orthodox into the military, but would not guarantee it would ever pass into law.

Liberman has repeatedly said he backs Netanyahu for prime minister, but will only join the government if there is a commitment to pass, unaltered, a version of the bill promoted during the previous Knesset. That draft of the bill is opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, which want to soften its terms. Netanyahu needs both Yisrael Beytenu and the Knesset’s ultra-Orthodox parties to form a majority government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Knesset on May 27, 2019. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

According to a Likud statement, Netanyahu proposed that as soon as his government is formed, the Knesset would vote on the Liberman-backed draft of the legislation in its first reading. After the bill was approved, it would proceed to the necessary second and third plenum votes by “mutual consent,” the Likud party said in a statement, without elaborating.

Netanyahu’s party put pressure on the ultra-Orthodox to back the proposal, noting that the government must advance an amended bill, under a Supreme Court order, by July or current arrangements will expire and thousands of ultra-Orthodox men are liable to be drafted into the army.

“This means that the ultra-Orthodox will have to choose between Liberman’s law and a return to the original law, which means full mobilization for the ultra-Orthodox as for all parts of the public,” the Likud statement warned.

“The proposal has now been submitted to the parties and we await their positive response in order to form a right-wing government tonight and prevent unnecessary elections,” it added.

Deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman seen during a press conference after meeting with president Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

United Torah Judaism leader Ya’akov Litzman swiftly rejected the offer on Wednesday night, telling Channel 12 they would not accept any agreement based on Liberman’s demand.

The Shas party, headed by Aryeh Deri, received approval from its councils of rabbis to back the compromise, according to television reports. The Walla news site said Degel HaTorah, a faction within United Torah Judaism that holds four of the party’s eight seats, also agreed to the offer.

“We have compromised,” Litzman said. “If Liberman won’t accept our offer we will have to go to elections, but we cannot budge further.”

A UTJ source later told the TV network that in protest of Netanyahu’s offer, the party could support another Likud candidate for prime minister.

Liberman also turned down Netanyahu’s final proposal, saying that his position on the conscription law was “well-known and is still valid.”

Immediately before the announcement of the offer, Likud said it had finalized coalition deals with 60 MKs, in what was seen as a possible sign the party was considering a non-majority government.

But that claim quickly unraveled after would-be coalition partner Moshe Kahlon said his Kulanu party had not signed any deal, and UTJ pushed back against Netanyahu.

The Knesset late Wednesday prepared to dissolve itself at 11:30 p.m. as no compromise was reached. It was not immediately clear if Netanyahu had secured the majority to do so. The bid, which would see new elections called in September, is designed to prevent President Reuven Rivlin from tasking another lawmaker with forming a coalition.

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