Benjamin Netanyahu to meet Israel coalition heads for crisis talks

Netanyahu (above) is accused of granting financial or other benefits to businessmen in return for gifts or favours.
Netanyahu (above) is accused of granting financial or other benefits to businessmen in return for gifts or favours. PHOTO: REUTERS

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to meet with Israel's ruling coalition heads, his office said on Saturday (March 10), to discuss a political crisis that could force early elections.

A meeting with leaders of two ultra-Orthodox parties was to be held later on Saturday, to be followed the next day by talks with the other members of his coalition.

The coalition is currently at loggerheads over legislation that would exempt young ultra-Orthodox men from military service.

The ultra-Orthodox parties are refusing to approve the state budget unless a draft bill is amended or scrapped, while Defence Minister Avidgor Lieberman is determined to pass the law.

Netanyahu himself, who returned on Friday from a trip to the United States, could soon face charges in at least two separate corruption affairs.

Critics accuse Netanyahu of allowing a political crisis to brew to trigger early elections and give him more time in power if the attorney general decides to press charges.

Netanyahu's office, however, said he "prefers to continue the government's work until the end of its term in November 2019, which necessitates the agreement of coalition members".

In the graft probes, over which police have recommended his indictment, Netanyahu allegedly granted financial or other benefits to businessmen in return for gifts or favours.

The prime minister is not required to resign if indicted.