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Netanyahu government reaches deal to avoid snap polls

Update: March, 14/2018 - 11:30

JERUSALEM — Israel’s government reached a deal on Tuesday to avoid snap elections after days of speculation over the motives of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, facing possible indictment for corruption.

The deal comes after some coalition partners had accused Netanyahu of wanting early elections to bolster his political standing ahead of his possible indictment for bribery in the coming months.

Netanyahu repeatedly insisted that he wanted his right-wing coalition to last until the end of its term in November 2019.

After the deal was announced on Tuesday night, Netanyahu told parliament that “I promised to do everything possible so that this government that has had magnificent success remain in place, and I kept my promise.”

Efforts to reach a compromise had intensified throughout the day.

On Tuesday afternoon, Israeli newspaper Haaretz, citing coalition sources, reported that Netanyahu was working to resolve the crisis after estimating he could not garner enough votes to dissolve parliament.

Netanyahu’s legal woes were the focus of the coalition crisis throughout, with a range of politicians accusing him of allowing it to worsen to give him the option of forcing early polls.

Polls suggest he could remain prime minister after fresh elections even with corruption investigations hanging over him.

He had alternatively sought a guarantee from coalition members that they would remain in the government even if he is indicted, Israeli media have reported.

But while Netanyahu’s future dominated the conversation, the resolution of the crisis hinged on separate, more technical issues.

Members of the coalition have been pushing for a number of votes to occur before the end of the week.

The votes involve a budget for 2019 and legislation to exempt young ultra-Orthodox Jewish men from military conscription.

The dispute centres on ultra-Orthodox parties having demanded that the conscription bill be passed before they agree to vote for the 2019 budget.

At the same time, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon wants the budget approved before parliament’s current session ends this week and had threatened to quit if it does not happen.

Separately and perhaps equally as important, Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman opposes the conscription bill and wants to see ultra-Orthodox men serve in the military like their secular counterparts.

‘Vote as one

Compromise efforts sought to balance those divergent interests.

The ultra-Orthodox parties agreed to support the budget if the conscription bill passes an initial parliament reading for now, with a final vote postponed until the summer session.

Based on that compromise, parliament could give final approval to the budget and preliminary approval to the conscription bill this week.

Regarding Lieberman’s opposition to the conscription bill, a ministerial committee on Tuesday night agreed that members of the coalition could vote their conscience on it.

Lieberman has stuck to his position of opposing the conscription bill throughout, but says he will not quit the government over it for now.

He has signalled he could quit if the conscription bill is given final approval, but also held out the possibility of a compromise on that if a new bill is crafted with the input of the defence establishment.

Lieberman vowed earlier Tuesday that his Yisrael Beitenu party would “vote as one against the bill” as it stands now.

But, Lieberman said, “can elections still be prevented? Absolutely.”

Netanyahu, 68, could soon face charges in at least two separate corruption affairs, while investigations are continuing into two others.

Three of his former associates have signed state witness deals with police.

Police recommended his indictment for bribery in the first two cases in February and the attorney general is considering how to proceed, a process expected to take months.

In one case, Netanyahu and his family are accused of accepting expensive gifts from wealthy supporters in exchange for financial benefits or favours.

The other alleges he sought a secret deal with the publisher of a top-selling newspaper for favourable coverage.

Netanyahu has been prime minister for a total of 12 years, from 1996 to 1999 and again since 2009.

He is not legally required to step down if indicted -- only if he is convicted with all appeals exhausted. — AFP

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