Fed up with his coalition partners’ ultimatums and threats to bring down his government, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is reportedly planning to issue them an ultimatum of his own: Demonstrate loyalty and work together, or face new elections.
The prime minister has told confidants to prepare for an election, Israeli media reported on Tuesday, but is continuing with efforts to salvage his fractured coalition as it faces the daunting task of passing the 2015 national budget.
At a meeting Monday with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu discussed potential solutions for the crisis in the coalition over the state budget. At the same time, party leaders rushed to declare their reluctance to take the country to new elections.
Lieberman warned that should the coalition break apart, Israel would go to elections, which are pointless because he does not foresee “any dramatic change happening even after the elections.”
Lieberman expressed the hope that both the current coalition and Netanyahu “know how to get along and find the necessary compromise or right tones [of discourse].”
The foreign minister said the current “escalation of statements is not helping,” noting he believed Yisrael Beiteinu was “the only party that did not present ultimatums. We’re not threatening, and we try not to fight with anyone.”
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, the head of the Movement party, on Monday slammed the proposed Nationality Law defining Israel as the Jewish nation-state, which she has delayed, expressing concerns about its anti-democratic nature.
Her primary concern, she said, was that “I object and we will all object to [Israel as] a democratic state that is not Jewish, or a Jewish state that is not democratic.”
On Sunday, she accepted a request from Yesh Atid’s Yaakov Peri to postpone the vote. Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet, had dubbed the bill as “dangerous.”
“I love the fact that Netanyahu said he supported equal rights, but the bill proposals from [Likud MK Ze’ev] Elkin and Jewish Home do not include that term, so I postponed the discussion,” she told reporters. “We’re not against the Nationality Law, but are against a law that hurts the Declaration of Independence.”
Netanyahu on Monday called and then canceled a meeting of senior Likud leaders to discuss the coalition crisis. Nonetheless, he hit back at Livni’s comments, reaffirming his determination to ensure that the bill becomes law, and insisting that there were provisions to guarantee the rights of each Israeli citizen.
“On Nov. 29, 1947, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution to establish a Jewish country in the Land of Israel. ‘We hereby declare the formation of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.’ These words were written in the Declaration of Independence,” Netanyahu said.
“Each citizen in the State of Israel has rights, regardless of religion, race or gender. These rights are enshrined in the law. The issue of a Jewish and democratic state is not enshrined in law. On Sunday, we will put the Nationality Law on the government’s table to provide an answer to those doubting this right. We’ll insist this bill passes.”
The coalition infighting has also extended to other legislation, with Yisrael Beiteinu MKs on Monday walking out of a Knesset Finance Committee discussion on Lapid’s bill to annul VAT for certain home purchases.
Lapid also called Monday for an end to the squabbling, saying that the disagreements could be resolved with sensible debate in the relevant Knesset committees.
“This is not the time for elections and coalition maneuvering,” he said. “I won’t form any alternative government. The public expects responsibility from us. The country is being torn apart. There’s violent discourse in the Knesset as well. This is not the time for political interests. We can solve everything in two hours of to-the-point discussions.”
But his party’s faction leader Ofer Shelah struck a less conciliatory note Monday, telling reporters that his party would not concede on the issues key to its platform.
“We will stick to our principles, and we’ll make sure that they cannot be buried. We won’t give up, and we’ll go all the way,” Shelah said, adding that he and his colleagues were not afraid of elections.
Predictions also surfaced of a possible meeting between Netanyahu and representatives of the chareidi parties to examine the possibility of forming an alternative government.
But MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism clarified that he and his colleagues had no intention of acting as the prime minister’s life jacket. “If we join the government, we’d save Lapid and he’d rise in the polls. Up to now, he’s been a total failure,” Gafni said.