Netanyahu Partners Try to Salvage Coalition as Collapse Looms

(Bloomberg) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government teetered Tuesday as feuding coalition partners calculated whether early elections could strengthen the alliance or oust them from power amid a mushrooming corruption scandal.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked warned that allowing the Likud party-led coalition to fall more than a year before its term expires would be a “historic mistake” that could backfire and bring left-wing parties back into power. “This is a bogus crisis,” said Shaked, a member of the Jewish Home party, in a tweet.

Netanyahu told parliament on Monday that a “supreme effort” must be made to preserve the coalition, which is bickering over a bill that would restore military draft exemptions to ultra-Orthodox men. Opponents, however, have accused Netanyahu of orchestrating the impasse to trigger an election that could bolster his standing before a possible indictment on influence-peddling charges.

A new poll showed Netanyahu, Israel’s second-longest serving prime minister, would emerge stronger from a vote despite the corruption scandal, winning three times as much support as his closest challenger.

“If there are elections, we will run and we will win,” Netanyahu said Monday from the Knesset podium, taunting opposition leaders as being afraid to face voters.

The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Shas control 13 parliamentary seats, and if they withdraw from the government, Netanyahu would lose his majority in the 120-member Knesset. A pullout by Liberman’s party would leave Netanyahu’s government with a one-seat margin, but in his Knesset speech on Monday, the prime minister said such a razor-thin majority was untenable to govern.

Netanyahu’s opponents have been calling on him to resign since police recommended Feb. 13 that he be indicted on bribery and fraud charges in two influence-peddling cases; police are still investigating a third case in which several former close aides have agreed to testify against him. Netanyahu says he’s the innocent victim of a witch hunt by left-wing opponents and the media.

If Netanyahu goes to trial he could be the second Israeli premier in a row convicted of corruption. His predecessor Ehud Olmert was released from prison last year after serving 16 months of a 27-month sentence. Olmert stepped down to battle the charges.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.