PM lashes out at ministers over threats to bolt coalition

Netanyahu hints strongly at new elections if government stability not restored over nationality bill

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, November 9, 2014. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, November 9, 2014. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck out at his coalition members during the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, saying recent ultimatums or threats to withdraw from the coalition issued by some ministers were making it impossible to run the country.

Netanyahu told ministers that it was impossible to continue with the leadership fraying over issues such as the state budget and the “Jewish law” bill, and issued a thinly-veiled threat to dissolve the government and call new elections

“There are important missions ahead of us,” Netanyahu said. “In order to carry them out, we need government stability and sound management. Unfortunately, this is not what’s happening. Lately, almost not a day goes by without diktats, or threats, or threats to resign or ultimatums of all sorts.”

“I hope that we can restore sound management [of state affairs]. It is what the public expects of us. Only in this way, can we run the state. And if not, we’ll draw the necessary conclusions,” he said.

Netanyahu’s remarks came amid growing speculation that he may call for early elections if coalition members cannot solve their differences over a nationality bill that was set for a cabinet vote this coming Wednesday.

The prime minister was set to present his own softened version of the bill to the cabinet on Sunday and to the Knesset for a first reading in the week starting December 7, but fissures have formed over whether the more hard-line version will still be brought in front of the Knesset on Wednesday.

The prime minister 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 more moderate version of the “right-wing” versions submitted by MKs Ze’ev Elkin, Yariv Levin, Robert Ilatov and Ayelet Shaked.

Netanyahu is also sparring with Finance Minister Yair Lapid over the inclusion of a plan for tax-free homes in the budget. On Saturday, Netanyahu told associates that Lapid’s Yesh Atid party was making it impossible to govern, according to Israeli news site Ynet.

Channel 2 reported Saturday night that, despite reports to the contrary, Netanyahu would not let the coalition collapse over the controversial “Jewish state” bill.

The bill, which would enshrine Israel’s character as a Jewish state in Israel’s de facto constitution, has come under harsh criticism from Lapid, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Labor Party chief Isaac Herzog and other opposition lawmakers, and President Reuven Rivlin, and his predecessor Shimon Peres.

Critics say the law is undemocratic to Israel’s Arab and other minority populations.

At a stormy cabinet session on the bill last week, Livni accused Netanyahu of backing the legislation in order to try and pry apart the coalition so that he can call elections.

Despite the criticisms, 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.

“I am in favor of a nationality bill, but the existing draft will not pass as is,” Lapid said Saturday at a gathering in Tel Aviv, adding that he was “not scared to go to elections” if it were necessary.

Lapid said the bill was harmful to Israel’s international relations.

The finance minister also panned Netanyahu for not acting decisively on key issues, causing a deadlock in the government.

On important issues, “everything is stuck, and Netanyahu is standing idly by. The state budget, international relations, the personal security of Israeli citizens, housing and so on,” Lapid said.

“Instead of dealing with what is important, [he] is dealing with polls and [is worrying about] political survival,” he added.

Lapid spoke bitterly of “five strong Likud central committee members who are ruling the country and influencing the party.” He accused these activists of taking hostage the state budget — set to pass in March 2015 — and using it to make political deals.

“The state budget is stuck because these five central committee members are pressuring Netanyahu and convincing him not to accept the budget, and I don’t understand why he’s going along with it,” Lapid said.

Lapid said Netanyahu need to “stand up to his own party” and tell its members that “the festival of corruption is over.”

On Friday, Netanyahu expressed concern about indications that the state budget would not pass by the March deadline, given the coalition crisis, and blasted Lapid for trying to push through his 0% tax housing bill, according to a Channel 2 report.

“This is a law that will waste millions [of shekels] and will not affect the housing market,” Netanyahu reportedly said, adding that he would not allow Lapid to harm the defense budget.

Lapid also denied reports Saturday that he was pushing to build an alternative coalition without Netanyahu. On Friday, Likud sources told Channel 10 that they want the Knesset legal adviser to check whether Lapid is plotting what they called an attempt at a “putsch.”

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. We are not trying to build an alternative coalition,” Lapid said.

For its part, Yesh Atid 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.

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