Coalition rift has Israel heading toward early elections


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel may be heading to early elections, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid accused of each other of fomenting a coalition crisis.

Netanyahu, head of the Likud party, and Lapid, whose party has the most seats in the coalition government, in a meeting on Monday night failed to repair the coalition rift, leading both sides to say that the early vote will be called.

The Israeli media reported that the elections would come in March. Elections are scheduled for November 2017.

A bill disbanding the Knesset could come to a vote as early as Wednesday.

“The people of Israel placed the responsibility on me, but with this coalition it is impossible to govern the country as its citizens expect,” Netanyahu said after the meeting. “If the unprecedented conduct from some of the ministers continues, there will be no escaping from going to the polls.”

Following the meeting, Lapid reportedly said that Netanyahu presented “impossible” demands and was responsible for new elections.

At the meeting, Netanyahu presented Lapid with five demands, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. The demands called on Lapid to stop undermining the government, particularly over construction in Jerusalem and relations with the United States; to transfer 6 billion shekels (about $1.5 billion) to the defense budget as previously promised; to free up funds for the Israel Defense Forces to relocate its headquarters to southern Israel; to support the softened version of the Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people bill; and to freeze the zero-value added tax proposal.

Lapid, the finance minister, has strong feelings on the programs and issues noted in the demands.

In a statement, Lapid said that “Netanyahu prefers a deal with the ultra-Orthodox parties to bring forward the elections above the interests of the wider Israeli public.”

Earlier Monday, Lapid told his Yesh Atid faction at a meeting that early elections would harm the economy that he is trying to repair and lead to important socioeconomic legislation being stalled in the Knesset. He said he would work to hold the five-party coalition government together.

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