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Israeli coalition tries to avoid early election

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged his coalition partners to make a “final supreme effort” to keep the Government together in a row over new proposals to allow ultra-Orthodox men to avoid military conscription.

The ministerial committee for legislation yesterday approved a proposed conscription law amendment after the Prime Minister reached a compromise with ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition.

But Defence Minister and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who has insisted only his ministry can draft an ultra-Orthodox conscription Bill, vowed that his party will oppose it. This could lead to Yisrael Beiteinu leaving the coalition and early elections.

Netanyahu told the Knesset: “I don’t think we should have even reached this situation, because our government is an excellent government … If there are elections, we will run and win. But we are not there yet. It is late, but not too late, and we must make a final supreme effort to preserve the current government over time.”

The conscription Bill is backed by the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party, which has threatened to veto the 2019 budget if its bill isn’t passed. Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has threatened in response to pull his Kulanu party out of the Government if the budget isn’t passed this week.

The Bill will have its first reading in the Knesset this afternoon. The Knesset will then debate the 2019 state budget, which was approved last night by the Finance Committee. Yesterday, Lieberman said that he would leave the coalition if the Bill passed its final readings but remained ambiguous about what he would do if it was approved in its first reading.

The ultra-Orthodox Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of UTJ said that he would not budge an inch from the understandings that were reached with the Prime Minister.

In a possible further complication, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein accepted a request from the Yesh Atid and Meretz parties to hold a vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset within 90 days if the conscription Bill is brought for a vote.

Some coalition members suspect that Netanyahu has been actively seeking new elections. An unnamed member of the coalition told Yediot Ahronot: “Instead of meeting with Lieberman and trying to resolve the crisis, Netanyahu met with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to plan early elections, Netanyahu’s speech from the Knesset podium was a show.”