Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urgently worked to break a deadlock in coalition negotiations yesterday as the once far-fetched possibility of fresh general elections only months after April polls loomed ever larger.
Netanyahu has until today night to reach a coalition deal, but he has been unable to convince ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman to abandon a key demand and allow a government to be formed.
Failing to do so would be a major setback for Netanyahu, and the stakes are especially high with the premier facing possible indictment for corruption in the months ahead.
There have been reports that Netanyahu is seeking legislation in the new parliament that would result in him receiving immunity from prosecution, and new elections would delay those efforts and may make it impossible.
Beyond that, he faces the risk of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin opting to give the task of forming a new government to someone other than him.
Late Monday and overnight, Israel’s parliament took its first steps toward dissolving itself and holding new elections. Two further votes are needed to finalise it.
The prime minister has sought to pile pressure on Lieberman, whose nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party’s five seats are crucial to the coalition Netanyahu wants to form, but he has refused to back down.
The dispute hinges on Lieberman’s demand that legislation he supports aimed at having ultra-Orthodox Jews perform mandatory military service like other Jewish Israelis be approved without changes.
The issue is highly sensitive in Israel and the legislation is opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, who control 16 seats in parliament and are set to become a key member of Netanyahu’s coalition.
Netanyahu said in an address late Monday that Lieberman was being unreasonable and that there was “no reason to drag the country to unnecessary elections that will cost a fortune and paralyse us all for another half a year.”