A few hours after the spiritual leaders of Agudath Israel instructed their faction’s MKs to insist on passing a controversial bill before the 2019 budget is approved, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat down with United Torah Judaism head Yaakov Litzman and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to try to reach a compromise.

Netanyahu and Litzman

Netanyahu and Litzman Photo Credit: Flash 90

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting with United Torah Judaism head Yaakov Litzman and Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to try to reach a compromise regarding a bill that seeks to secure military service exemptions for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students. The leaders want to reach a compromise that would end the current coalition crisis. It is feared that the current tensions in the coalition could lead the country to the polls for an early election.

A few hours ago, the Israeli lawmakers from the Agudath Israel faction, which Litzman heads, were instructed to insist that the bill becomes a law before next year’s state budget is approved. The order came from the faction’s Council of Torah Sages. “I’ve been asked to inform you that our Council of Torah Sages has decided to pass the yeshiva student military draft law before the approval of the budget,” the council secretary wrote in a letter that was sent to the MKs. “There’s not been any change and you must act in accordance with this decision.”

Agudath Israel makes up half of the Haredi UTJ party, which holds six seats in the coalition. The decision by the faction’s Council of Torah Sages means that the compromise bill that Ha-Bayit Ha-Yehudi leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked drafted in an attempt to decrease the possibility of an early election has been rejected.

Last week, Kahlon threatened to resign if the budget is not passed by Passover, which begins on March 30. “The nation of Israel will sit down for Passover Eve with a budget or without a finance minister,” Kahlon said on Monday. In response, UTJ leader Moshe Gafni said: “So there will be a Passover Eve without a finance minister.”

Earlier today, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Litzman skipped this week’s meeting of coalition party heads over the disagreements regarding the bill. Due to their absence, the meeting was adjourned after 20 minutes.

On Sunday morning, Netanyahu said that he will continue to try to prevent the dissolution of his government but stressed that having a narrow majority coalition is “not an option.”

“One thing is clear – we cannot maintain a 61-member coalition,” Netanyahu said, alluding to Liberman’s threats to quit the government unless a solution to the military draft bill dispute 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.”