When party leaders arrived on Sunday for their periodical meeting, there was one thing that was immediately apparent: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rhetoric had changed.
During the summer recess, he kept saying that he was not going to call early elections, even when the conventional wisdom was that he was actually trying to move up the election. But on Sunday, this mantra was conspicuously missing.
Instead, he said he has yet to make up his mind on early elections. For those in the meeting, this was a very clear sign that elections are near.
Netanyahu’s indecision means that United Torah Judaism will discard any plan it may have had to compromise on the controversial conscription bill. It also means that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has recently shown flexibility on the language of the bill, will once again stand firm and refuse to agree to any changes. By the way, judging from what unfolded at the meeting, the real bone of contention is not the conscription bill but the conversion bill.
The party leaders also noticed another change: There was no daylight between him and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. When Kahlon asked the party leaders to pledge not to engage in reckless spending in the coming months, Netanyahu was quick to concur. When he said that everyone must stand together and torpedo legislation introduced by the opposition, Netanyahu once again seconded his request. When Netanyahu said that no piece of legislation dealing with religious matters should be advanced without the coalition leaders first signing off, Kahlon expressed support.
Much has been said about the growing bond between Netanyahu and Kahlon. It could ultimately mean that the two will run on a joint ticket. In fact, the show they put on display on Sunday suggests they have already decided to join forces.
Kahlon has said repeatedly over the past several months that elections would be held in February at the latest. But when he said this on Sunday, it appeared that he was speaking for two.