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Netanyahu's government to remain intact as coalition strikes compromise

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, pictured with then-deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman at a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011.
AP Photo/Uriel Sinai, Pool
Netanyahu has repeatedly said he wants the coalition to last its entire term, which ends in November 2019

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government reached an agreement in order to stay intact after a tumultuous week that threatened snap elections largely over a contentious bill exempting ultra-Orthodox students from mandatory military service.

Addressing the parliament on Tuesday night after reaching the agreement, Netanyahu said "I promised -- I delivered."

In a marked show of bitterness with the opposition, the prime minister taunted, "That was scary huh? I'm glad the color has returned to your cheeks. I saved you a great deal of frustration," referring to avoiding another election run and affirming his public support.

The agreement reached provided that the army exemption bill would be passed whiles still allowing for the Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and his secular Yisrael Beytenu party to vote against it.

The ad hoc compromise seems to contravene precedent that prevents a sitting minister from voting against a government ministerial decision.

Netanyahu’s fragile coalition was sent into a tailspin last week when head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party Yaakov Litzman threatened not to support the government’s 2019 state budget if the exemptions bill was not approved, putting them at loggerheads with Liberman, who vowed to vote down the legislation.

At the same time, Finance Minister and Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon said he would step down from his post and pull his party from the coalition if the state budget failed to pass.

Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense

In a last-ditch effort to save his government, Netanyahu agreed with the ultra-Orthodox bloc to push the draft bill through a legislative committee on Monday setting it up for a first reading in plenum this week..

The agreement provided that the coalition would discuss the appeal of the exemptions law submitted by the Jewish Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver of Liberman's Yisrael Beytenu faction, which she originally raised in order to prevent the bill from reaching a preliminary reading.

It added that in the summer the defense minister would submit a version of the conscription law and combined with the religious proposal in order to be unanimously passed by all coalition parties.

In the meantime, the coalition partners agreed not to pass any laws on religion and the state.

In theory, even if Lieberman and his party were to quit, Netanyahu's coalition could continue with a one-seat majority in parliament.

But the premier has voiced his aversion to continuing without Yisrael Beitenu, calling it unsustainable.

Netanyahu has repeatedly said he wants the coalition to last its entire term, which ends in November 2019, but should Liberman back out of the partnership, snap elections would be essentially assured.

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A poll by Hadashot showed Netanyahu's Likud party leading should snap elections be held. Netanyahu would win 30 seats, while the Yair Lapid led opposition Yesh Atid would only get 21 seats, according to the poll. The center-left Zionist Union would be third largest party with 13 seats.

Members of the ultra-Orthodox community, who represent about 10 percent of the Israeli population and live in compliance with a strict interpretation of Jewish laws, have been exempt from service since the founding of the state.

Their draft exemption has long remained a controversial issue in Israel, and the government has made efforts to compel ultra-Orthodox Jews to either serve in the military or perform national civilian service.

There has been a string of demonstrations in recent months, spurred by arrests of young ultra-Orthodox men accused of dodging military service, though some seminary students have refused even to do that.

Ultra-Orthodox parties form a central plank in Netanyahu's ruling coalition government, and the leader has aroused anger due to his acquiescence to the groups on a range of issues.

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