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Cracks in coalition emerge ahead of no-confidence vote

JERUSALEM, June 22 (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing a coalition crisis that could bring down his 1-year- old government. Two days before a Knesset debate on a no-confidence motion, Communications Minister Limor Livnat resigned as the Cabinet’s liaison to the Knesset. Once considered a Netanyahu confidant, Livnat said she could no longer defend the government’s policies. While she did not resign as minister, Livnat said she was deeply disturbed by the decision-making process in the government and could not respond for the Cabinet at Tuesday’s Knesset debate. A majority vote in favor of the no-confidence motion would bring about new elections both for the Knesset and the prime minister. The motion was submitted last week in the wake of Likud Knesset member Dan Meridor’s resignation as finance minister. Meridor stepped down after the Cabinet adopted a foreign currency reform he sharply opposed. He accused Netanyahu, his longtime rival in the Likud, of using the dispute to push him out of the government. Livnat criticized Netanyahu for convening the Cabinet last week to decide on the economic issue while she and two other ministers were abroad. Meridor is the second minister to resign from Netanyahu’s Cabinet. Likud Knesset member Ze’ev “Benny” Begin stepped down in January after the government signed the Hebron accord transferring control over most of the West Bank city to the Palestinians. Livnat said that while she had sharp objections to the functioning of the government, she did not plan to vote no-confidence in the government. The situation was less clear with regard to the immigrant-rights party, Yisrael Ba’Aliyah, which holds seven of the coalition’s 66 seats in the 120-member Parliament. Contacts between Yisrael Ba’Aliyah leader Natan Sharansky and coalition head Michael Eitan of Likud made little headway on Sunday. Sharansky said that if disputes over what he described as broken coalition promises were not resolved by Tuesday, the faction would consider itself free to oppose the government. Meanwhile, there were stirrings of discontent from the Gesher and Tsomet factions over a pending Cabinet reshuffle prompted by the need to fill the portfolios vacated by Meridor and Begin. The two factions, which ran jointly with Likud in last year’s Knesset elections, have demanded that the appointments come from their ranks in order to step up their representation in the Cabinet. Netanyahu has been holding his cards close to his chest. He was also awaiting a final decision from former Justice Minister Ya’acov Ne’eman on whether he wished to return to the Cabinet. Ne’eman was acquitted earlier this month of charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. When he stepped down in August, Netanyahu pledged to reinstate him if he was cleared. But Israeli media reports that Ne’eman had decided not to return to the government fueled more speculation. Likud hard-liner Ariel Sharon was the leading contender for the Finance Ministry, with Tourism Minister Moshe Katzav moving to replace Sharon as National Infrastructure Minister, according to Israeli media.

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