JERUSALEM, Israel – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman reached an agreement Tuesday evening, ending speculation by Israeli media that the coalition crisis would likely lead to early elections.
The stalemate revolved around supporting legislation exempting ultra-Orthodox youth from serving in the military and the passage of the 2019 state budget. It's a familiar problem, with people on both sides of the issue reportedly refusing to compromise. In the end, the parties worked together to resolve their differences and keep the government intact.
UTJ (the United Torah Judaism party) agreed to support the budget in exchange for passing legislation ensuring that yeshiva students will not have to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.
Many Israelis feel strongly that the ultra-Orthodox should serve in the military like all the rest. But the Haredim feel just as strongly that studying in Torah seminaries is more important than serving in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). In the past, the yeshiva students have been granted deferment allowing them to postpone induction for several years. The majority of Israeli youth begin their compulsory service right after high school graduation.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu/Israel our Home party, threatened not to support the budget if the conscription bill passes. But they reached an agreement both sides can live with.
According to Israeli media, Lieberman and Netanyahu spoke at length Monday evening, with neither issuing a statement afterward.
Earlier the same day, the conscription bill passed in committee, allowing a preliminary reading in the Knesset. But Aliyah and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, Yisrael Beiteinu's representative on the committee, refused to support the bill.
Lieberman, who strongly opposes the exemption of yeshiva students from military service, threatened to quit the government. Had he followed through, Netanyahu would have been left with the razor-thin 61-member coalition it had before Lieberman came on board in May 2016.
While two parties in the opposition, Yesh Atid and Meretz, submitted proposals to dissolve the Knesset, the discussions on Wednesday will very likely fall short of the support they're hoping for.
Speaking before the Knesset Monday, Netanyahu told parliamentarians "the hour is late but not too late" to preserve the present government, but, he said, he's not afraid of early elections.
Some analysts said Netanyahu favored early elections as a diversion to potential indictment on alleged corruption charges. That turned out to be more media speculation than reality. Recent polls show the allegations against Netanyahu have not diminished support for his Likud party. One poll predicted Likud would win as many as 34 seats if elections were held now.