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Israel’s Netanyahu accused of perpetuating ‘fake crisis’ to force early election

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, March 11, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

Members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition have accused the embattled premier of brewing a “fake crisis” over a legislative dispute, concerning the controversial military conscription of ultra-orthodox Jewish men, in an attempt to seek an early election to help him survive corruption investigations.

Right-wing and religious parties in the government are currently separated over the framing of a bill that would guarantee the exemption ultra-Orthodox seminary male students have traditionally enjoyed from compulsory military service.

The widening rift could potentially hurl Israel to the snap ballots more than a year before its scheduled date, as the spiritual leaders of the major ultra-Orthodox political factions have already threatened to vote down the 2019 budget unless the legislation, which is bitterly opposed by Minister of Military Affairs Avigdor Lieberman, is approved.

If persisting disagreement is not settled and the budget is not approved, then, the three-year old government of Netanyahu would most likely fail to reach its expiry date in November next year.  

“Over the past week we've baked a good solution for the draft crisis. I can say that there's no draft crisis. It's a fake crisis,” Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, told reporters ahead of Sunday's cabinet meeting.

He added that “it could be that there’s someone who for personal reasons wants to generate a crisis and lead the state to elections... In the end it’s all up to one person who has to decide whether he wants elections or not, and that's the prime minister.”

The Israeli premier, who would face a possible indictment on bribery charges in the coming months, met with leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties Saturday night, after which he noted that they were working on a draft for the contentious bill that would satisfy legal and political demands.

Earlier in the day and following the coalition talks, Netanyahu’s office announced that the cabinet ministers were waiting for ultra-Orthodox parties, which control 13 of the government’s 66 seats in the 120-member Knesset, to present a revised version for the bill. Secularist right-wing parties want the exemption lifted or at least the language changed.

At least three police probes revolving around bribery allegations threaten the four-term prime Netanyahu's political survival. He has rejected any wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a “witch hunt.”

However, polls suggest he could remain prime minister and his Likud party could win most of the seats in fresh elections despite police investigations into his affairs.

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