Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to meet with Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman late Monday night, in an apparent final effort to mend the coalition crisis over the ultra-Orthodox draft and stave off early elections.
Earlier, Culture Minister Miri Regev, and close Netanyahu ally, set off a flurry of speculation when she was caught on camera at the Knesset on Monday afternoon texting an assistant, “Cancel the hotel. Elections are on.”
בעוד על הדוכן נתניהו אומר שאפשר למנוע בחירות, נאמנתו מירי רגב בשולחן הממשלה משגרת מסרון ללשכתה: תבטלו את המלון, יש בחירות pic.twitter.com/e0qRpCCuiJ
— עמית סגל Amit Segal (@amit_segal) March 12, 2018
Haaretz reported that despite publicly imploring his coalition allies in a Knesset speech on Monday to work to prevent early elections, Netanyahu has in fact been actively seeking to dissolve the Knesset and hopes to amass a parliamentary majority to do so by Wednesday.
According to the report, Netanyahu wants to schedule the elections for June 26, and hopes to garner support from both the coalition and the opposition for the plan.
A senior coalition official appeared to corroborate that assessment, telling Walla news that ostensible efforts to salvage the coalition through a compromise deal with the ultra-Orthodox parties were doomed to fail. “Netanyahu is really pushing for elections,” he said.
As the rumors swirled, Likud MK Yehuda Glick said he would not support a dissolution of the Knesset. “It’s not the right move for the State of Israel,” he tweeted. “I call on my friends to join me and vote against!”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein approved a request Monday by opposition parties Yesh Atid and Meretz to allow a vote this week on a bill to dissolve the parliament and set a date for elections.
The Zionist Union faction had tried to present a dissolution bill earlier in the day, but was prevented by protocol that prevents a first vote on new legislation in the final week of the Knesset sitting. On Thursday, the Knesset will go on recess after the four-month winter sitting.
In a letter to Edelstein, Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg and Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelach argued that a dissolution bill should be given the same privileges as the ultra-Orthodox conscription bill, which the coalition is planning to vote on this week.
“Voting on the conscription bill will be an exception to the general rules, and the same exception should be made for the opposition,” they wrote.
Netanyahu, in his speech to the Knesset on Monday, had called on his coalition partners to make a “supreme effort” to save the government from collapse.
“If there are elections, we will face them and we’ll win too. But we’re not there yet,” he said. “The hour is late, but it is not too late.”
Netanyahu had reached an 11th-hour deal with the ultra-Orthodox factions in the coalition to push the conscription bill through the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and bring it to a preliminary plenum vote this week.
But Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, a vociferous opponent of the bill — which is seen as giving the ultra-Orthodox the ability to dodge the country’s mandatory military draft — was insistent on Monday that his party will oppose it, fueling speculation that a snap vote as early as June was all but assured.
Should Liberman pull his Yisrael Beytenu party out of the coalition over the bill, leaving it with 61 seats out of 120, that would likely spell early elections, as Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he will not lead a government with such a razor-thin margin.
The prime minister is under investigation in multiple corruption investigations, and facing police recommendations to indict him in at least two cases. He is further embattled by deals signed recently by two of his former confidants that will see them testify against him in a third case. Leaders of coalition parties have insinuated that Netanyahu may be engineering the crisis in order to call early elections as a referendum of sorts on his rule, ahead of a possible indictment.