By Jonathan Ferziger
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed to party leaders in his governing coalition to immediately resolve their dispute over drafting ultra-Orthodox men into the army and prevent the prospect of early elections.
“We have to make this effort tonight — here and now — and we will do it,” Netanyahu said in a speech to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. “If there are elections, we will run and we will win, but we aren’t there yet.”
Netanyahu, who is also facing the possibility of indictment on corruption charges, called on Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and leaders of two ultra-Orthodox parties to reach a compromise that would allow his government to complete its four-year term through November 2019. A new poll showed Netanyahu would win an election.
The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Shas have threatened to withdraw if the Knesset doesn’t pass a bill restoring draft exemptions for its students at rabbinical academies. If the 13 members of parliament they control were to withdraw, Netanyahu would lose his majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Liberman has vowed that his five-member Yisrael Beitenu party would vote against such legislation.
“People are playing a game of chicken” to see which side concedes, said Abraham Diskin, professor emeritus of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He said chances are “more than 50 percent” that Netanyahu will manage to prevent the government’s collapse.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who spoke after Netanyahu in the parliamentary session, called on the prime minister to resign and spare the country from the “endless saga” of a legal fight over the corruption charges.
Netanyahu would win and rebuild his coalition if elections are held, a poll commissioned by Hadashot TV news showed. His Likud party would retain its 30 seats in parliament while the opposition Zionist Camp would drop to 13 from 24, it said. The ultra-Orthodox parties would lose two seats and Liberman, one. Asked who would make the best prime minister, 36 percent said Netanyahu. The closest challenger, Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party, garnered 12 percent. The poll surveyed 558 likely voters, with a margin of error 4.3 percentage points.