This file photo taken on Dec 24, 2017 shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looking on during the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem. (AMIR COHEN / AFP)
JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition partners blamed him for waging a "fake crisis" over a political dispute to push for snap elections that would help him survive corruption investigations.
The dispute emerged over a bill to exempt ultra-Orthodox Jewish men from military conscription. Netanyahu's Jewish ultra-Orthodox partners, who make 13 out of the government's 66 seats in the 120-seat parliament, demanded the government to approve the bill.
Maybe there's someone who for personal reasons, wants to generate a crisis and lead the state to elections... and it's up to the Prime Minister to decide whether he wants elections or not
Naftali Bennett, education minister and head of Jewish Home party
The recent political turmoil comes as the long-time leader and his close associates are involved in at least four criminal cases investigated by the police for possible corruption offenses.
On Sunday, as media widely reported that Israel will probably face early elections in June, Netanyahu's office said he held a meeting with Yaakov Litzman, leader of the ultra-Orthodox party of Agudat Yisrael, to find a solution that would save the coalition.
The meeting came after Rabbi leaders rejected a suggested compromise, stating that the ultra-Orthodox parties will not vote in favor of the 2019 budget unless the conscription bill would be passed first.
Secular right-wing factions want the exemptions given to ultra-Orthodox men revoked or at least the terms of the exemption changed. In the past, they have agreed to compromise on the issue.
"It is a fake crisis that can be resolved. It all depends on Netanyahu," Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, told Israel Radio.
"It could be that there's someone who for personal reasons, wants to generate a crisis and lead the state to elections," he suggested, adding that "in the end, it's all up to one person who has to decide whether he wants elections or not, and that's the Prime Minister."
Yaakov Margi of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party said that the coalition partners are very close to reaching a compromised agreement, adding that "the feeling is that the Prime Minister has fallen in love with this fake crisis."
"Once the heads of the ultra-Orthodox parties announced they would agree to a solution, the draft crisis was solved. All the rest is a fake crisis," he wrote on Twitter.
Recent opinion polls showed that Netanyahu still enjoys strong public support and his Likud party could win the most seats in the upcoming elections, despite the corruption investigations.
The police have already recommended indicting Netanyahu in two bribery cases, but the final decision on any indictment would be made by the attorney general.