Israel avoids snap polls but Netanyahu's fate awaits

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

The crisis over military service within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing coalition follows speculation over whether Netanyahu wants early polls to bolster his political standing ahead of his possible indictment for bribery in the coming months.

Netanyahu's coalition partners were divided over a bill that would continue to grant exemptions from mandatory military service to ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, a divisive issue among Israelis.

But Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who leads the Yisrael Beiteinu party, has called the legislation a "classic fake law".

"I said yesterday that I would make a final ultimate effort to prevent elections and maintain the good government under my authority", Netanyahu said in an address before parliament.

On Sunday, some of his coalition partners accused him for not trying hard enough to solve the political dispute in order to force snap elections that would help him survive corruption investigations.

Netanyahu has however said repeatedly that he wants his coalition to last to the end of its term in November 2019.

Citing "coalition sources", Haaretz reported that "Netanyahu's pivot was because he did not believe he would secure a majority to dissolve the Knesset and hold elections in late June".

Members of Netanyahu's government have argued in recent days over whether to extend the exemptions demanded by the ultra-Orthodox.

After announcing the deal, Netanyahu said: "I promised to do everything possible so that this government that has had magnificent success remain in place, and I kept my promise".

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On Wednesday, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, a loyal Netanyahu ally, said "an accurate description would be to say that the prime minister was indifferent to the outcome".

Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman's announcement does not bring an end to the coalition crisis and came with a warning that he still could resign later.

Lieberman later told lawmakers from his Yisrael Beitenu party that he would continue to oppose the legislation, but would remain in the government for now.

Earlier the same day, the conscription bill passed in committee, allowing a preliminary reading in the Knesset.

But, Lieberman said, "can elections still be prevented?"

The 68-year-old premier could soon face charges in at least two separate corruption affairs, while investigations are continuing into two others.

Police recommended his indictment for bribery in the first two cases in February and the attorney general is considering how to proceed, a process expected to take months. In the other, he is suspected of promoting regulation that would benefit an Israeli daily newspaper in exchange for more favorable coverage.

Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in all of the cases, accusing prosecutors, police and the media of conspiring to oust him.

He is not legally required to step down if indicted - only if he is convicted with all appeals exhausted.

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