The legal deadline for Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu to form a coalition government is fast approaching, with less than 27 hours left to solve the remaining disputes – and newly emerging hurdles.
While Netanyahu’s Likud party won 35 mandates – the same amount of parliamentary seats as his ‘Blue and White‘ rivals – his widely perceived ability to devise a functioning coalition with the right-wing religious bloc – which are perceived as Netanyahu’s natural allies – provided him with the desired task of forming Israel’s next government.
That said, after reaching understandings with most of his would-be coalition partners, negotiations have reached an impasse – threatening imminent failure that may result in yet another round of national parliamentary elections.
The deadlock revolves around fundamental disagreements between Netanyahu’s would-be coalition partners, particularly the ultra-orthodox factions – United Torah Judaism and Shas – and the secular-right Yisrael Beiteinu party. The reported dispute pertains to a controversial military draft law, which demands military conscription of all of Israel’s citizens, including ultra-orthodox seminary students who – under the current legal arrangement – may delay their service if they declare that “Torah-Study is their profession.”
While the Ultra-orthodox factions actively aspire to evade military conscription for seminary students all-together, a bipartisan consensus among Israel’s secular parties demand an equal sharing of the so-called ‘military burden.’
In efforts to resolve this dispute, the military formulated a proposed bill which aims to serve its conscription needs, putting emotional considerations aside. Despite a broad acceptance of the draft law during Netanyahu’s previous government, which saw the bill pass a preliminary round of voting; the ultra-orthodox parties have seized their leverage in coalition talks to force a compromise in their favor, practically revoking the military’s proposed bill.
This political maneuver has infuriated former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman who made an election pledge, promising not to deviate from the original bill. In a press conference from the Knesset in Jerusalem, Lieberman accused Netanyahu bearing responsibility for the crisis, after capitulating to the demands of the ultra-orthodox parties. The Former Israeli DM and Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman said: “I think that at the moment, on the one hand, election is totally unnecessary. Only the Likud is to blame for the failure of coalition negotiations. In order to prevent this, I suggest the ultra-orthodox parties to do exactly as they did in the first reading (on military draft bill): To allow the bill to pass in the second and third readings and they can leave the plenum.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu refuses to accept defeat, underscoring that there is enough time to find a solution that will respect the Israeli voters’ wishes, by forming a stable right-wing government. “In the time left I will continue to act in every way possible in order to establish a government in the coming days.” / “The voters’ wishes can be respected. A strong right-wing government can be established. We can bring stability and a good government to Israel. I hope people come to their senses and do the right thing,” Netanyahu said.
Adding fuel to the fire, the Israeli parliament – the Knesset – voted in favor of dissolution, less than one month after being sworn-in. 66 Knesset Members voted in favor, 44 against and five abstained during the first, preliminary round of voting. The second and third readings may be held as soon as tomorrow. If passed, the move would compel the holding of snap national elections once again, as soon as September.
That said, in accordance with Israeli law, if Netanyahu fails to form a coalition, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will grant the second most likely party to devise a needed coalition of 61 mandates, to make its own attempt – as was pointed out by Blue and White co-chairman Yair Lapid. Blue and White Co-Chairperson Lapid stated that “If by Wednesday night, Prime Minister Netanyahu won’t be able to form a new government then by law the president should call us and let us try and form our own government and we will do our best, maybe to form a unity government with post-Netanyahu Likud.”
It is important to note that the IDF appears to back the stance of Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman. Amid the presiding crisis, the IDF released exclusive statistics on enlistment of ultra-orthodox seminary students, showing a decline of six percent in enlistment within a decade. The IDF warned that within only a decade the percentage of enlistment hit an all-time low: 60% of draft-aged people. The reason is the growth rate of the ultra-orthodox public, which is substantially higher than the rest of the population in Israel. According to a senior military official, who was interviewed by Israel’s Army Radio, warned that “If Israel does not invest in ultra-orthodox enlistment today, in a decade the IDF will be in big trouble.” The Ultra Orthodox parties did not immediately respond to TV7’s request for comment.