Israeli coalition crisis sparks speculation of early elections

Le premier ministre israélien Benyamin Netanyahou, avec le ministre israélien des Finances Moshe KahlonAFP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he would call early elections if he can not reach an agreement over the fate of the Israel Broadcast Authority this week, at a meeting with ministers in his home on Saturday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem January 31, 2016.

Before departing on a weeklong visit to China, Netanyahu said Kahlon's insistence was "unacceptable" and there was no need for the new corporation to be established when the current authority could be reformed.

"I've changed my mind", Netanyahu said in a tweet. He did not, however, address Netanyahu's warnings or suggest the new broadcaster would not start broadcasting by the launch date.

The crisis raised speculations that the dispute may lead to early elections, a move which would stall potential steps to renew peace talks with Palestinians under the new USA administration of President Donald Trump.

Early elections would come as police gather evidence in two criminal probes against Netanyahu that have weakened him politically and could increase pressure on him to resign should they lead to charges.

Some commentators speculated that early elections would postpone Netanyahu's possible indictment.

Others speculated that Netanyahu, after a visit by a US envoy last week, was unsettled by the course the Trump administration might set in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and wanted to delay diplomacy.

Kahlon's comments would appear to indicate that he does not intend to accede to Netanyahu's call to prevent the establishment of the IBC, as is expected by April 30.

Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that his coalition partners are required to side with his ruling Likud party regarding all media regulation matters.

Meanwhile, senior Likud ministers sparred over the election threat.

Transport and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said he opposed fresh elections and believed a compromise could be found. "We'll not have a better coalition after the elections".

The prime minister recently confirmed for the first time that he called an early election in 2015 to block legislation aimed at curtailing the distribution of Israel Hayom, a free daily financed by billionaire backer Sheldon Adelson that largely serves as his mouthpiece.

Kahlon heads the Kulanu party which, with 10 seats in parliament, is a crucial part of Netanyahu's government.

Netanyahu's current coalition is seen as the most right-wing in Israel's history.

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