Israeli government avoids early election | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 13.03.2018
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Middle East

Israeli government avoids early election

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has overcome a political crisis over military conscription to avoid a snap election. Critics accuse Netanyahu of creating a crisis to distract from corruption scandals.

Israel's government reached a compromise on Tuesday to avoid an early election, overcoming a Cabinet crisis over a controversial bill to exempt ultra-Orthodox Jews from compulsory military service.

The political crisis came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces possible indictments in two corruption cases and is being investigated two others.

Critics have accused the prime minister of manufacturing a crisis to distract from his legal woes and push a snap election in a bid for a new mandate ahead of a possible indictment.

Polls indicate Netanyahu's Likud party would come out top in an early election.

Ultra-Orthodox draft bill

While the corruption scandals swirling around Netanyahu were in focus during the coalition crisis, the main issue at hand was technical.

Read more: Benjamin Netanyahu questioned by Israeli police about corruption scandal

Members of his six-party right-wing coalition demanded a vote on the 2019 budget and legislation that would exempt ultra-Orthodox from army conscription.

Ultra-Orthodox parties that help underpin Netanyahu's government had demanded a vote on the conscription legislation before passing the budget.

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Meanwhile, Kulanu party chairman and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon had threatened to resign unless the budget was passed this week.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who leads the Yisrael Beiteinu party in the coalition, was against a snap election and wants ultra-Orthodox Jews to serve in the military like secular Israelis.

Haaretz reported that Netanyahu did not have enough votes in the Knesset to bring down the government and trigger an early election. His term runs until November 2019.

'I kept my promise'

After announcing the deal, Netanyahu said: "I promised to do everything possible so that this government that has had magnificent success remain in place, and I kept my promise."

Avi Gabbay, the chairman of the opposition Zionist Union, said he was disappointed there would be no snap election.

"Today we have discovered who is really afraid of elections," he said. "It's painful, just painful that the elections have been canceled. The bad news is that the situation will not remain as it is but instead will get worse."

Under the compromise, ultra-Orthodox parties agreed to support the budget if the conscription legislation passes an initial parliamentary reading this week, with a final vote to be held this summer.  

Coalition members, including Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party, will be able to vote against the conscription bill, but that will likely not be enough to prevent its approval. 

Avigdor Lieberman (picture-alliance/AP Photo/Abir Sultan)

Lieberman said his party would vote against the conscription bill

Lieberman has indicated that he may quit the government if the conscription bill is given final approval, but has also left room for compromise.

In September, Israel's top court ruled that a law exempting ultra-Orthodox Jews from military service is unconstitutional and gave the government one year to address the issue.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews make up about 10 percent of Israel's population. They argue conscription will make young men come into contact with women and secular Jews who may tempt them away from the Torah.

Their exemption from mandatory military service has caused tension with secular Israelis, who serve two to three years in the army and are periodically called up for service.

cw/kms (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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