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Netanyahu In Last-Ditch Effort To Save Coalition, Stave Off Elections

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu launched a last-ditch effort to press members of his coalition to commit to remaining in the government until the end of its term in November 2019; this, amid an ongoing dispute over a prospective bill to exempt ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, men from serving in the military. The premier met with the heads of the Haredi coalition parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, on Saturday night and thereafter outlined three conditions that are necessary for the crisis to be resolved. The first is a binding agreement on the matter between Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the ultra-Orthodox parties, which is already in the works; that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party support the military exemption legislation through all three readings necessary for it to pass; and for Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to publicly vow to allow the bill to move forward and not withdraw his Yisrael Beytenu party from the government. The wrangling comes as all sides are still working on a mutually acceptable draft of the bill, which became a political necessity in September when the Supreme Court struck down a law exempting the ultra-Orthodox from conscription on the grounds that it was discriminatory. The Haredi parties seek to pass a new bill to circumvent the ruling or else have threatened to topple the government by voting down the 2019 budget which is scheduled to be presented to parliament later this week. Coalition party heads were set to meet with Netanyahu Sunday morning and, unless a compromise is reached, Israelis could be heading to the polls as early as June. Rumors have been swirling that Netanyahu is, in fact, in favor of holding elections this summer as a snap vote would likely push back a decision on whether or not to indict him in at least two criminal cases. Moreover, should he again win the premiership, even with his prevailing legal troubles, such renewed public backing could provide Netanyahu with additional leverage to fight growing allegations of misconduct.