A deal brokered by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) Tuesday evening has resolved the ongoing coalition crisis over a haredi-backed draft law, and averted the collapse of the Likud-led government.
On Tuesday night, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted to back a bill aimed at protecting army draft deferments for yeshiva students, while also permitting each coalition partner freedom to vote against the bill. According to the committee’s decision parties will vote as a bloc, with their vote determined by the party chair.
Earlier on Tuesday, a senior official close to Netanyahu told Army Radio a breakthrough had been reached, and he was optimistic early elections could be avoided.
“We just took a major step back from [early] elections,” a source close to Netanyahu told Israel’s Army Radio. “We think it’s possible to avoid snap elections.”
The unusual move is part of the compromise agreement between the Prime Minister and the Yisrael Beytenu party, which had clashed with Netanyahu over the draft bill this week, vowing to vote against it despite the premier’s threats to fire Yisrael Beytenu minister Sofa Landver.
While the committee’s decisions are typically binding on all coalition MKs, Netanyahu permitted an exception in the case of Shas MK Yoav Ben Tzur’s draft bill, a piece of legislation haredi MKs have demanded the government pass.
As part of the agreement with Yisrael Beytenu, Defense Minister Liberman will propose a second draft law during the Knesset’s summer session, based upon the recommendations of ministry officials.
The bill will be brought before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and, if approved, will be merged with the haredi-backed bill proposed by Yoav Ben Tzur that is currently under consideration.
With the coalition crisis resolved, the Knesset is expected to approve Ben Tzur’s draft bill on its first reading Tuesday night. Despite Yisrael Beytenu’s opposition, the bill has the backing of 61 of the coalition’s 66 MKs – a slim majority in the 120-member Knesset.
After the draft bill’s first reading is completed, the Knesset is expected to pass the 2019 budget, securing the government’s continued operation, followed by the Nationality Law.
The coalition crisis began last month, when haredi lawmakers levelled an ultimatum, threatening to block the 2019 budget bill unless the government passes legislation protecting draft deferments for full-time yeshiva students.
While yeshiva students have received open-ended draft deferments, renewable on an annual basis, since the late 1970s, the Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down legislation on the deferments, including a 2017 ruling against a 2015 draft law.
Following last year’s ruling, haredi lawmakers have drafted new legislation which would circumvent the Supreme Court’s ruling, and protect draft deferments by amending Israel’s Basic Laws. The current bill up for consideration, drafted by Shas MK Yoav Ben Tzur, would enshrine Torah study as a national value, thus shielding deferments for yeshiva students from future Supreme Court rulings.
On Sunday, Netanyahu met with Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism), and ultimately succeeded in winning haredi backing for a compromise arrangement, under which the government would approve the draft bill in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and bring the bill up in the Knesset plenum for the first of three readings. The bill would be brought up for its second and third readings during the Knesset’s summer session.
While the meeting secured haredi backing for the spending plan, it forced the Prime Minister into a confrontation with Yisrael Beytenu, which vowed to vote against the bill and threatened to bolt the coalition if it was passed into law.
“If the law is passed in its current form – we’re out,” Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer told Channel 10on Monday.
“We won’t let our hands be tied when it comes to security matters. We’ll leave the coalition if the bill is passed in the second and third readings.”