JERUSALEM (EJP)---Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to be lobbying his cabinet to support early elections, as his coalition appeared increasingly unlikely to accept his proposed mass budget cuts for the coming year.
Opposition parties accused the Prime Minister of staging a rift with Defence Minister Ehud Barak ahead of planned early elections, after apparently leaked reports emerged claiming Netanyahu had confided in Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz his fears Barak was undermining him in meetings with the United States, playing on his “moderate” position to curry favour.
The Defence Ministry hit back with a prepared statement insisting Barak was attempting “to lower tensions between Jerusalem and Washington”, an apparent reference to mass media reports of the souring relationship between US President Barack Obama and Netanyahu, over their differing approaches to the Iranian nuclear threat.
According to the Israeli premier’s critics, however, such tactics are designed to strengthen the case for early elections, a well a increasing support for Netanyahu’s Likud party and Barak’s Atzmaut party as separate entities, thereby drawing on the support of centre-left voters in order to enhance their post-election coalition majority.
Socialist Meretz party leader Zehava Gal-On insisted “tensions between the duo of the prime minister and defence minister are coordinated and staged in advance of forthcoming elections”, adding that once both individual parties had capitalised from their apparent fall-out at the polls, “Barak will fall into Netanyahu’s waiting arms, and together with (fellow opposition party Labour leader Shelly) Yachimovich crawl into a Netanyahu government”.
Other politicians were keen to bring rhetoric back to the real point of contention, failure to reach consensus over the budget, which could necessitate early elections, with MK Einat Wilf saying the only evident tension was with Steinitz “because of their disagreement over the budget”.
Netanyahu has conducted a series of urgent meetings with Steinitz and coalition partner Shas leader Eli Yishai to reach an agreement on the budget, in the lead-up to the start of the (Israeli parliament) Knesset’s winter session on October 15. Yishai has denied claims his party is providing the main stumbling block to approving a budget, accusing Netanyahu of using that as a smokescreen to disguise the fact he has already taken the decision to go to the polls early. Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin has warned Netanyahu could call elections within a mere hour of the Knesset reconvening.
Whilst Netanyahu’s former coalition partner Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz has sought to capitalise on apparent divides in the government ranks by presenting himself a the only credible alternative to the premier, Yachimovich has backed early elections, insisting “setting a date will eliminate uncertainty that harms the economy”. “Israel needs elections in order to choose between alternatives and reset the national agenda,” she added.
Mofaz slammed Netanyahu in an Army Radio interview following the premier’s address to the UN General Assembly in New York last week, warning that his threats to strike Iran might be a ploy to avoid holding early elections. In his comments Sunday, the former Deputy Prime Minister implied that “the possibility of military action or war is a consideration in the eyes of the prime minister to change the date of elections”.
“The Iranian issue should be dealt with as if there are no elections, and the elections should be held as if there is no timetable for Iran to go nuclear,” he added.
Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad implied in his own address to the General Assembly that close Israel ally the US might be delaying action on its nuclear programme until after its own presidential elections had been staged on November 6.
Netanyahu has been subject to criticism for appearing to favour Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney over incumbent Obama, by laying out a red carpet welcome for Romney’s campaign trail visit to the Jewish State. After Romney’s repeated accusations Obama has “thrown Israel under a bus” in the international arena, any decision on sending Israel to the polls could be delayed until the American presidency has been decided.