Israel could be going to the polls, again

Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and then- Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman delivering a statement to the press, Jan. 10, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Two months after national elections, Israel could be going to the polls again.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has until Wednesday to form a majority ruling government coalition, but has been stymied in his efforts in large part over the military draft law. The haredi Orthodox parties want changes to the law that would allow more leniency in drafting yeshiva students, while Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, insists he will not join the government unless the legislation’s restrictive language remains intact.

Netanyahu has not yet signed a coalition agreement with any party, as each waits to see what kind of deal the others will sign.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party has 35 seats in the new Knesset. The haredi Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties each have 8 seats. Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu has five. Netanyahu also is counting on the Union of Right-Wing Parties and its five seats, as well as the Kulanu Party led by Moshe Kahlon with four seats.

At Sunday’s regular Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu offered a not-so-veiled threat to call for new elections.

“It’s unfortunate. I don’t think we need to drag the country through another election, but perhaps there is someone who wants that,” he said.

Netanyahu on Sunday directed his party to introduce a bill to dissolve the Knesset and go to new elections to go into effect on Wednesday evening.

Calling for new elections would prevent President Reuven Rivlin from asking another lawmaker to try to form a new government.

Netanyahu planned a meeting for Sunday evening for potential coalition members to discuss the draft law. Liberman said he would not attend.