Netanyahu raises possibility of snap polls after broadcasting row

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised Sunday the possibility of snap elections following a dispute with his finance minister over a new national broadcasting service.

Local papers, radio and television channels reported on a weekend threat by Netanyahu to dissolve the government if the Public Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) isn’t dissolved before its scheduled start date on April 30.

Netanyahu, whose Likud party is part of a slim parliamentary majority, has long been opposed to the new service but he appeared last week to reach an agreement with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, before rowing back.

“You cannot have a situation in which Likud respects all coalition agreements while small parties don’t keep their commitments on important points,” Netanyahu said in remarks broadcast Sunday by public radio before he boarded the plane for a trip to China.

Allies of Netanyahu, who gave himself veto power over media issues when forming his cabinet in 2015, have suggested the new institution would cede too much control from government.

Some media suggested Netanyahu had deliberately triggered the cabinet crisis as a way to deflect attention from a long-running investigation into alleged corruption that has seen him questioned several times by police in recent weeks.

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

He is known as being committed to reforming Israel’s public broadcasting and is reported to have held talks with opposition leader Isaac Herzog of Labour on Saturday evening as the row dragged on.

Several ministers and Likud MPs are known to be against a snap election, and it is thought unlikely that rightwing and ultra-Orthodox parties would countenance joining a more centrist government.

Transport and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said he opposed fresh elections and believed a compromise could be found.

“I think that only two years after the elections, it’s not the time to go to new elections,” Katz, a senior member of Netanyahu’s Likud who aspires to one day replace the prime minister, told AFP.

“It’s against the interests of the Israelis, of the country, and also against the interests of the Likud... We’ll not have a better coalition after the elections.”

Netanyahu’s current coalition is seen as the most right-wing in Israel’s history. His Likud party controls 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament, while the coalition holds a six-seat majority.

The PBC is officially meant to revigorate Israel public broadcasting in an age when private channels have an increasing share of viewers.

It is set to begin broadcasting on April 30 and a team of some 400 staff have already started work.

But it is expected to lead to layoffs in Israel’s existing public broadcasting service, something Netanyahu has used to attack the PBC.

Culture Minister Miri Regev last year said it would be “inconceivable to establish a company that we wouldn’t control. What’s in it for us?”

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