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Netanyahu threatens elections amid rift over draft bill

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited the parties expected to join his coalition to an emergency meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday night, but Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman refused to come.

The Likud reacted by bashing Liberman, and warning that he could prevent Netanyahu from forming a coalition by Wednesday’s deadline.

“Liberman promised his voters that he would support the establishment of a right-wing government, led by Netanyahu,” the Likud said. “He is now using excuses to prevent the formation of the government that could lead to the establishment of a left-wing government.”

Israel Hayom reported that the prime minister was seriously considering initiating another election by passing a bill in the Knesset to disperse itself. The point of such a move would be to prevent President Reuven Rivlin from giving Blue and White leader Benny Gantz the mandate to build a coalition.

But KAN reported that the crisis was merely intended to put pressure on both Liberman and United Torah Judaism to compromise on the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conscription bill, which is the main issue holding up an agreement. Netanyahu was expected to warn UTJ leader Yaakov Litzman in Thursday night’s meeting that the refusal to seek the compromise of his rabbi, Gerrer Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter, could prevent the coalition’s formation.

Without Liberman, the best Netanyahu could do is build a coalition of 60 MKs, exactly half the Knesset. Liberman said he would vote against a coalition of 60.

Thursday’s stalemate was a turnaround from Wednesday, when progress was reported in negotiations. The head of the Likud’s negotiating team, Yariv Levin, promised UTJ representatives in a meeting on matters of religion and state that the status quo would be kept, which would mean no changes at the Western Wall.

The opposition is planning a mass rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, protesting against the Supreme Court override bill, the immunity for MKs bill, and other controversial legislation. The rally is being billed as a demonstration “in favor of democracy and the rule of law.”

Blue and White has also protested outside the homes of top Likud leaders and other central figures in the coalition Netanyahu is building.

The protesters confronted Kulanu faction chairman Roy Folkman near his home in the Jerusalem suburb Ness Harim on Thursday morning. Folkman told the protesters that his party could no longer prevent the passage of such bills, because Kulanu won only four seats.

The protesters received the impression from Folkman that Kulanu would remain in a Netanyahu-led government even after an indictment, despite repeated campaign promises by Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon not to do so.

“I told the protesters that in light of the results of the election, we need to reconsider what steps we take,” Folkman said. “I did not promise to sit in the coalition and back everything it does. With all due respect to Blue and White, which has not accomplished anything yet, we stood up and blocked personal legislation for four years.”

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