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Israel headed to elections as Netanyahu’s coalition dissolves parliament

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 2018-12-24 Ruth Eglash
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony to swear in Amir Yaron as Bank of Israel governor, in Jerusalem, Dec. 24, 2018. © Amir Cohen/Reuters Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony to swear in Amir Yaron as Bank of Israel governor, in Jerusalem, Dec. 24, 2018.

JERUSALEM —The coalition of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday it was dissolving parliament and calling a general election as soon as April, after failing to garner the necessary support to pass controversial legislation aimed at drafting ultra-Orthodox Jews into the military.

Local media said national elections would most likely take place on April 9.

Netanyahu’s coalition has been teetering on the edge since the Nov. 14 resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who stepped down over the government’s handling of ongoing tensions with the Gaza Strip.

Since then, the government has limped along with a one-seat majority in the Knesset, or parliament. Each crisis looked set to bring down the government and take the country to an early election.

That seemed imminent after Liberman’s resignation, as ultranationalist Education Minister Naftali Bennett threatened to withdraw his Jewish Home party from the government if he could not take over the defense portfolio. But Bennett was forced to backtrack after Netanyahu said he was determined to hold onto the important security post, as well as filling the roles of foreign minister, immigration minister and health minister.

A statement Monday from Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party said “national and budgetary responsibilities” had pushed the leaders of the coalition parties to “dissolve the Knesset and go to new elections at the beginning of April after a four-year term.”

But the decision appeared to be linked to an earlier announcement from Yair Lapid, head of the opposition Yesh Atid party and Netanyahu’s main challenger, that his faction would not support legislation aimed at drafting ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students into the army.

While all Jewish Israelis are required to serve in the military at the age of 18, those who study the Torah in recognized yeshivas, or religious schools, have traditionally received an exemption. However, manpower shortages in recent years and growing demands for equality have forced the government to reevaluate the matter and craft new legislation that would exempt only the top religious students — a move that the ultra-Orthodox have resisted.

Drafting a law that would satisfy all members of Netanyahu’s coalition has proved to be a source of tension over the past year, threatening to break apart the government.

From the outside, Lapid, who has pushed for new legislation, said the law did not go far enough and suggested that Netanyahu had “surrendered to the ultra-Orthodox.”

Liberman, who Netanyahu’s coalition had hoped would support the law despite his resignation last month, said the law in its current format had been “emptied of content” after agreements were reached between Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties.

ruth.eglash@washpost.com

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