Netanyahu urges Liberman not to ditch coalition over military exemption bill


Right-wing and religious parties in the government are divided over the framing of a bill that would protect the exemption ultra-orthodox men have traditionally enjoyed from compulsory military service.

As MKs and citizens wondered if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech in the Knesset on Monday afternoon was going to signal an end to his coalition, Jerusalem Post photographer Marc Israel Sellem provided everyone with the answer.

Netanyahu had reached an 11th-hour deal with the ultra-Orthodox factions in the coalition to push the conscription bill through the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and bring it to a preliminary plenum vote this week.

The coalition has been at loggerheads since ultra-Orthodox parties said they would not support next year's budget unless a law is passed to exempt religious students from military service.

But Liberman remained defiant, calling the law "absurd" and vowing that his secular Yisrael Beytenu party would vote against the legislation.

On Monday, Netanyahu called for solidarity in the coalition, telling all partners, "chiefly among them Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, to remain in the government and continue this partnership to ensure security, prosperity and stability for the state of Israel".

On Sunday, Netanyahu said that the precedent set by Iran could end up "nuclearizing the Middle East" and prompting a unsafe arms race. In the past, the parties have compromised over the issue, but at least one coalition partner suggested Netanyahu was not invested in preventing the government's collapse.

If the bill does not pass and the budget fails because the haredi parties won't vote for it, Kahlon and his party will leave the government. He added that he would prefer to avoid snap elections, but Likud would win them if they were called.

During remarks at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said his discussions with United States President Donald Trump and other officials in Washington last week focused mainly on Iran.

Police have already recommended Netanyahu be charged in two corruption cases. If indicted, Netanyahu may prefer to be seen as the head of a new government with a fresh term in office as opposed to a lame duck finishing out his latest term, Haaretz's Yossi Verter reported, citing a "consensus among party heads". Recent opinion polls show public support for Netanyahu is still strong. Mr Netanyahu took much of the fire.