Binyamin Netanyahu
Binyamin NetanyahuFlash 90

Speculation was rampant Monday night that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s decision to shelve the Conversion Bill, introduced by MK Elazar Stern (Hatnua), is part of his preparations for new elections, possibly next spring.

Several media outlets reported on Monday night that the reason behind Netanyahu’s move is to get closer to the hareidi parties in the Knesset in an attempt to receive their support as he forms the next government.

According to the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Netanyahu plans to tighten his alliance with the hareidi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, as well as with the Jewish Home party.

Netanyahu’s first step towards general elections, however, is to hold the primaries for the leadership of the Likud, noted the newspaper, and he plans to do so as soon as possible, with a possible date being November 25.

Netanyahu's associates confirmed to Yedioth Ahronoth that the prime minister is pushing for quick elections for the party leadership.

"Given the fact that the candidates are well known to members of the party, the best thing is to decide as soon as possible regarding the leader instead of placing the party in a long and unnecessary internal struggle,” those associates were quoted as having said.

Monday night’s speculations follow recent reports that Netanyahu seeks to change the Likud constitution and strengthen his standing within the movement, by – among other things – granting the party chairman the authority to set aside one in every 10 seats in Likud's list to a “star” he selects.

Another planned change is one granting the prime minister the option of moving representatives of Likud districts upward in the list, at the expense of members of the national list, and transferring the power to elect district candidates, from Likud members in general to the Central Committee.

Meanwhile, the Hatnua party which is headed by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, expressed disappointment over Netanyahu’s decision to shelve the Conversion Bill, and announced that it plans to continue to promote it - despite the prime minister’s objection to it.

"I was explicitly told by the Prime Minister's Office that, immediately after the budget passes, the government will also pass the Conversion Bill. Today I learned that the Prime Minister, unfortunately, is not true to his words. I will continue my efforts to pass the law in the Knesset immediately after the new session begins next week,” Stern said Monday night.

Livni, for her part, made clear that her party intends to continue to promote the bill, if not through the Cabinet then through a bill submitted to the Knesset.

"We will continue to promote the Conversion Bill," she declared. "If the bill is not promoted in the government, we will promote it in the Knesset together with liberal partners, those who are not afraid of the hareidim and who want to give young people who live here and serve in the army the opportunity to realize their strong desire to convert, marry and live here with us dignity.”

Netanyahu, for his part, has reportedly made clear that if the Conversion Bill comes up for a vote as a private bill in the Knesset, he will vote against it and work to bring it down.