Knesset Begins Spring Term; War, Elections Loom

Three-month term will be action-packed, as controversy over hareidi military service heats up.

Gil Ronen,

Knesset plenum
Knesset plenum
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The 18th Knesset begins its spring term at 4:00 p.m. Monday, and there is increasingly loud talk of possible early elections coming from all political corners, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Should the Knesset decide upon elections, the term – which ends July 29 – could be the last one before the 19th Knesset is elected by the Israeli people.

The most immediate threat to the coalition's survival is the expiration of the Tal Law regulating hareidi exemption from military service, due to take place July 31. This political bomb was planted by former Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, who decided in one of her final rulings that the law is null and void.

As a result of this decision, senior coalition partner Yisrael Beiteinu announced it would propose an alternative law, which would conscript hareidim in much larger numbers than at present, and also demand national service of Arab citizens. If the government appears to favor such a law, this could provoke Sephardic-hareidi Shas, another senior partner in the coalition, to leave the government.

Netanyahu has decided to show Yisrael Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman that he is not afraid of early elections, and leaks from his bureau have been creating the impression that he is ready to call snap elections for as early as August or September.

In addition, the government needs to make massive cuts in its 2013 budget – and its coalition partners may not be able to live with those cuts. This, too, is a factor feeding speculation that early elections are in the cards.

Meanwhile, however, a possibility of war against Iran could trump all other political considerations. While talks with Iran seem to be progressing better than expected, their outcome is by no means certain. The most recent leaks and speculations regarding a possible date for an Israeli confrontation with Iran pointed to September or October. Such a confrontation would also affect U.S. elections in November, possibly drawing the U.S. into the war and probably raising the price of oil.

If an attack on Iran is imminent, Netanyahu may want to call summertime elections in order to arrive at that station with a wider and more stable government. Or, he may decide to hold off with elections, and convince his partners to stop their political posturing in favor of wartime unity. 

Monday's session was set to begin with five no-confidence motions introduced by the National Union and several leftist opposition parties. The motions were expected to fail. However, following the death of the prime minister's father, the parties that filed the motions announced they would postpone them.