Early election threat hangs over coalition

Ministers close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say he is willing to disband the coalition


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon are expected to meet this weekend to see if they can reach a compromise on the new public broadcasting corporation and avert early elections.

Mr Netanyahu retreated from a previous compromise reached last week whereby the corporation would start broadcasting as planned on April 30 and, later this year, a new media regulation bill would be passed giving the government closer supervision over public media outlets.

Ministers close to the prime minister said he was willing to disband the coalition and call for elections two years early if Mr Kahlon continued to insist on the corporation’s existence.

During the four days Mr Netanyahu spent on an official visit to China this week, new compromise proposals shuttled between Jerusalem and Beijing. One was that the corporation would start broadcasting as planned but the CEO and chairman would both resign and be replaced by figures more acceptable to the prime minister.

Another idea was for the corporation to start with only radio and online programmes on April 30 while the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which was due to be dissolved, would continue its television broadcasts.

Mr Netanyahu has kept silent on the issue but sources close to him have tried in recent days to tamp down the talk of early elections, mainly due to the fact that none of the other parties in the coalition and a majority of Likud ministers and MKs are not in favour of the idea. However, he has not signalled he is willing to accept any of the compromise proposals.

The situation was exacerbated on Monday when the corporation announced that the anchor of its main evening news programme would be Geula Even, a veteran broadcaster and highly respected professional journalist who is also the wife former minister Gideon Saar, Mr Netanyahu’s most bitter rival within Likud.

A senior Likud minister said: “There still is a 50-50 chance of an early election. Netanyahu doesn’t seem to mind going to the people, he’s certain he will win. No-one else in the party wants elections but even if there’s a compromise on the table, both sides have to really want it and with all the tension, there’s already the beginning of a dynamic which could lead us to an early election. The next few days will be critical.”

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