Alluding to Lieberman's threats to quit govt., PM rules out 61-member coalition

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that he will not lead a narrow, 61-member coalition, suggesting that Israel will go to early elections if Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman chooses to quit the government over the draft bill dispute.
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Amid a burgeoning coalition crisis, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he will continue to try and prevent the dissolution of his government, but stressed that having a narrow coalition is "not an option."

"One thing is clear - we cannot maintain a 61-member coalition," Netanyahu said, alluding to threats made by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman to quit the government unless a solution to the draft bill dispute with the ultra-Orthodox parties is found.

Netanyahu proceeded to accuse members of his own Likud party of sabotaging the negotiations. He then reiterated that he still wants the current government to finish its term, but stressed, "For that to happen, all parties must reach an agreement and choose to carry on together."

Earlier on Sunday, after a succession of talks with leaders of ultra-Orthodox parties had failed to resolve the crisis, voices in the coalition suggested that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was deliberately avoiding a solution in order to lead Israel to early elections for his own political gain.

"Nobody wants elections at the moment, it's bad for the country and for its citizens," said Naftali Bennett, Israel's Education Minister and the leader of HaBayit Hayehudi party, one of Netanyahu's most prominent coalition partners. "Elections cost millions and they need to be held in their scheduled time. We're not a third world country."

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has already made it clear he will quit the government if the crisis isn't resolved by Thursday, when the Knesset goes on its Passover break.

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