Amid growing signs of discontent in the current coalition over the controversial “Jewish state” bill, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly set to decide on whether to call for early elections by Monday.
According to a Channel 2 report, the prime minister recently told close advisers that he was “elected to run the state. And in the current situation, it is impossible to govern.”
The bill, which would enshrine Israel’s character as a Jewish state in Israel’s de facto constitution, has come under harsh criticism from Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and the leader of the Yesh Atid party, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, as well as opposition lawmakers, President Reuven Rivlin, and his predecessor Shimon Peres.
Critics say the law is undemocratic to Israel’s Arab and other minority populations. A stormy cabinet meeting on the bill at the beginning of the week saw Livni accuse Netanyahu of backing the legislation in order to try and pry apart the coalition so that he can call elections.
Netanyahu has vowed to push the measure through, saying that it would guarantee equal rights for the country’s citizens and put Israel’s democratic and Jewish characters on equal footing.
The PM has presented 14 “principles” — a two-page articulation of the guiding principles for the as-yet unsubmitted government version of the nation-state bill — as a softened version to the more “right-wing” versions submitted by MKs Ze’ev Elkin, Yariv Levin, Robert Ilatov and Ayelet Shaked.
Both Livni and Lapid have hinted that they may be willing to go to early elections over the issue.
Speaking to Army Radio, Livni said that she would stand by her principles, and that “we” — meaning her party and Yesh Atid — “won’t let [the Elkin bill] pass.”
The bill is slated to be voted upon by the Knesset in a first reading on Wednesday of next week.
According to the Channel 2 report, Netanyahu is also worried about indications that the state budget would not pass under current circumstances by the March deadline, and blasted Lapid for trying to push through his 0% tax housing bill.
“This is a law that will waste millions [of shekels] and will not affect the housing market,” he reportedly said, adding that he would not allow Lapid to harm the defense budget.
Following reports that Lapid has been trying to build an alternative coalition without Netanyahu, Likud sources told Channel 10 Friday that they want the Knesset legal adviser to check whether Lapid is plotting what they called an attempt at a “putsch.”
Yesh Atid, for its part, asked the Knesset legal adviser on Friday to check whether Netanyahu is negotiating agreements for the next government with the ultra-Orthodox parties, and whether this is legal.
On Wednesday, Channel 2 reported that Netanyahu may dissolve the government in the coming weeks if he can garner guarantees from the two ultra-Orthodox parties to support him in a new coalition after elections. The prime minister asked Shas and United Torah Judaism factions to commit to lending support for him to form a new government after elections, the report said.
Earlier Friday, the opposition’s ultra-Orthodox parties made clear that if Netanyahu wanted their support under new elections, he would need to work for it.
Knesset member Yaakov Litzman, a leader of the United Torah Judaism party, said Friday the Knesset’s Haredi parties had not yet decided who they would recommend to lead the next government following elections — Netanyahu or another candidate such as Labor chief Isaac Herzog.
Shas’s Aryeh Deri said in a radio interview Friday that “we are prepared to promise that there won’t be an alternative government” without Netanyahu in the current parliament — in other words, that the ultra-Orthodox parties won’t partner with Labor and Yesh Atid in an alternative government without the Likud. But Deri made no commitment about Shas’s prospective alliances after elections.
Litzman had noted that his party was coordinating its positions with Shas, and hinted that the two factions would demand certain guarantees from the premier in order to seal their support for a post-election Netanyahu-led coalition.
“We’ve been injured by Netanyahu, and to win our support he’ll need to repent,” Litzman told Israel Radio.
Source in UTJ outlined what that penance may entail on Friday, with one official telling the Ynet news site that the parties would require written and signed assurances from Netanyahu to increase funding for yeshivas and children’s benefits, place tighter restrictions on the process of conversion to Judaism, and remove criminal sanctions against yeshiva students who refuse enlistment, as dictated by the Haredi enlistment law approved earlier this year.
“Those are our principal demands,” the official said, “and this time we will insist on a satisfactory written agreement, not promises and smiles.”
Both Channel 10 and Channel 2 reported Friday night, however, that the ultra-Orthodox parties are hesitating to partner with Netanyahu after the elections, as they don’t trust him. Channel 10 said that the parties are torn between a possible partnership with Netanyahu following new elections, after he left them out of this government, or staying in the opposition for another year or more without elections — with neither option being politically palatable.
After elections, the heads of all parties that make it into the Knesset submit their recommendations to the president for a party leader to head the government. The leader with the most recommendations is then invited by the president to attempt to form a coalition with 61 or more Knesset members.