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Coalition talks deadlocked over conscription bill

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held emergency meetings last night with party leaders to try and break the deadlock in talks to form a new government.

Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman refused to attend the meeting, which resulted in the Likud criticising Lieberman and warning that he could prevent Netanyahu from forming a right-wing government by the 28 May deadline.

The main obstacle to an agreement is the conscription bill to recruit more people from the ultra-Orthodox community into the army. One senior Likud source said: “The crisis over the military conscription law is just an excuse for the fact that Lieberman doesn’t want to join a Netanyahu government at all. [Lieberman] lied to his voters. He promised to form a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu and in practice, he is shifting right wing votes to Tamar Zandberg and to Ahmed Tibi.”

Yisrael Beiteinu responded that a new right-wing government could be formed if the ultra-Orthodox parties drop their objections to the conscription bill, as it was passed in a first reading in the last Knesset, with the support of the Likud and the other coalition parties.

United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev said the ultra-Orthodox parties would not agree to the current wording of the military conscription law, which he said: “Constricts the right and the obligation to study Torah”.

Lieberman himself said in closed-door meetings: “I don’t intend to compromise on the military conscription law. And I am not willing to change a single full stop or letter in it.”

Sources at the meeting said Netanyahu now intends to press ahead on forming a coalition of 60 MKs without Yisrael Beytenu. Lieberman said he would vote against a coalition of 60, because: “It would not be a right-wing government but a haredi government that would make Israel into a state of Jewish law instead of a Jewish and democratic state”.

Netanyahu’s prospective coalition includes Likud (35 seats), two ultra-Orthodox parties – Shas and United Torah Judaism parties (8 seats each), the United Right (5 seats), Kulanu (4 seats) and Yisrael Beiteinu (5 seats).

If Netanyahu fails to form a coalition, President Reuven Rivlin will hold consultations with the heads of all the parties to either ask another party leader to form a government or recommend new elections.