Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon held their first meeting in over a week Sunday but failed to reach an agreement in the crisis over the new public broadcasting corporation that threatens to send the country to early elections.
Following the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu and Kahlon sat down together along with Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who then left the two men to talk things through together.
But the meeting failed to produce a deal and was brought to a close due to time constraints, Channel 2 reported. The two men did agree to meet again for more talks in the near future.
Earlier Netanyahu had told a gathering of Likud ministers that, for the time being, there is “nothing new in the negotiations with Kahlon.”
Netanyahu has reportedly threatened to call early elections if the coalition refuses to cancel reforms advanced by his own Likud party that would shutter the Israel Broadcasting Authority and launch the replacement broadcaster, called “Kan,” by April 30.
But Kahlon is refusing to budge.
“What we are seeing here are whims and spin,” Economy Minister Eli Cohen, a member of the Kulanu party led by Kahlon, told Army Radio on Sunday.
“If (Netanyahu) decides to go to elections, we are confident that the public knows how to appreciate those who act responsibly and those who want to go to inexplicable elections,” he said.
Over the weekend, coalition chair David Bitan of Netanyahu’s Likud party attacked Kahlon, saying the finance minister did not have his priorities right.
“The Treasury does not mind throwing away 700 million shekels [$192 million] every year on the corporation [Kan], while the elderly and the handicapped are barely living on food benefits. The same Treasury repeatedly rejects any initiative to raise the disability benefits, but greatly endeavors to protect a handful of rich kid snobs,” Bitan said.
Netanyahu is widely believed to be opposed to the new body because he perceives it as being too left wing. Netanyahu has long complained of a media hostile to him.
Hebrew media said last week that the new corporation’s decision to hire veteran news anchor Geula Even had stiffened Netanyahu’s resolve to oppose the body. Even is married to Gideon Sa’ar, a former interior and education minister and a rising star in the Likud party until he resigned from political life in 2014. Sa’ar is widely expected to return to the Knesset at some point, possibly to run against Netanyahu for the premiership.
Channel 10 reported that Israel Radio, operated by the existing broadcast authority, would go off the air in protest at the new corporation. Sunday radio shows were halted twice for half an hour: 9:30-10:00 a.m., and 11:30 a.m. until midday. Instead of the scheduled live programs, the station broadcast music.
Negotiations between Kahlon and Netanyahu’s liaisons, aimed at reaching a compromise regarding broadcasting policy that would stave off the prime minister’s threat, have failed to yield an agreement.
Channel 10 reported that the Communications Ministry is preparing a new bill about the corporation apparently in an effort to resolve the issues. Kahlon, for his part, has taken steps to mollify Netanyahu by agreeing to switch the corporation’s directors, as long as the organization is eventually established, the report said.
The long-simmering crisis escalated last week when Netanyahu backtracked on an agreement with Kahlon to launch the new public broadcasting corporation — set up through a law passed by his previous government in 2014 and slated to replace the old Israel Broadcasting Authority.
If Kahlon refused to scrap the new broadcaster, “we’ll go to elections,” Netanyahu was reported to have told Likud ministers at his home last Saturday.
Kahlon disagreed with nixing the new corporation, saying such a move would waste massive funds.
Other coalition members have balked at the idea of going to elections, with Interior Minister Aryeh Deri saying last week that such a move would be “unforgivable” and that Netanyahu and coalition leaders would work to defuse the coalition crisis when the prime minister returned from China.
Netanyahu returned on Thursday, but was reportedly too ill to meet with coalition leaders to resolve the conflict.
Likud officials have warned in recent days that the ruling party stood a good chance of losing a new election, as the current crisis would likely cost it the support of Kahlon’s party in any future coalition talks, while poll favorite Yesh Atid might be able to piece together a coalition with both right- and left-wing parties.