AN early general election in Israel was avoided on Tuesday with a last-minute compromise over army conscription for the ultra-Orthodox.
The crisis was dramatically resolved when scandal-plagued Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners agreed a deal.
They had been divided over a bill that would continue to grant exemptions from mandatory military service to yeshiva students — an issue which has split Israeli society.
The ultra-Orthodox parties demanded that the government grant the exemptions, while rival religious and secular parties in the government threatened to bolt the coalition over the issue.
Under Tuesday’s compromise, the five-seat secular nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, which opposed the bill, will be allowed to vote against it. The bill is set to pass without the party’s support.
Netanyahu thanked his coalition allies for “exhibiting responsibility so that we can continue leading with determination and success”.
He added: “It’s very important that we decided together to continue together for the good of the country.”
And he mocked the opposition: “You were scared for a minute! I know I spared you great distress because if there was an election, I’d be back here.”
Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, who pushed for two weeks to prevent an election, said that “common sense won and the national interest prevailed”.
However, Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay said the decision proved Netanyahu was afraid of elections and that he had “escaped the judgment of the public”.
A TV poll had found that 54 per cent of Israelis opposed an early election.
The political showdown came as Netanyahu faces possible indictment on corruption charges.
The opposition accused Netanyahu of manufacturing the crisis in order to force a new election.
Early elections would have shifted attention away from his legal problems, and a win would have shored up his position ahead of a possible indictment.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in the cases against him, and has accused the police and media of a conspiracy to oust him.
If an election had gone ahead — June 26 was the suggested date — one thing would have been certain: it would have been the ugliest election in Israel’s history. And this is sad.
Israel has known dirty and ugly elections. In 2015, for example, the Likud party ran commercials claiming that if Labour won, ISIS would take over Israel.
“It’s either us or them,” the Likud’s slogan went at the time, referring to the Right and Left. If the Left wins, Likud claimed, terror will reign.
Then there was Netanyahu’s high-noon election day appeal, in which he claimed that left-wing organisations were busing Arabs in “droves” to the polls, endangering the right-wing government. While he later apologised for the remark, the end justified the means.
Netanyahu had to get re-elected, and was willing to do whatever it (legally) took, even if it meant engaging in racially divisive rhetoric.
If there was to be a snap June election, it would have been a campaign of mudslinging and scorched-earth tactics.
The opposition — and even some of the parties on the Right — would be claiming that Netanyahu is corrupt, is a hedonist and is destroying the country.
He, in return, would warn of the destruction of Israel if Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid or Labour’s Avi Gabbay comes out on top.
Likud would attack the media, the police, the attorney-general and the courts. Everything would be fair game, nothing off limits.
And the Left would not be that different. It would slam Netanyahu, his wife and son. It would accuse him of being against peace, against Arabs and against basic freedoms.
In short, a snap election would have had the potential to become extremely ugly to the point where it could cause long-term damage to Israeli society.
Thankfully, it has been avoided... for now.