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Israeli official says prime minister exploring possibility of early elections
JERUSALEM (AP) ' Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to decide by next week whether to move up national elections, an Israeli official said Sunday.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for October 2013. but Netanyahu told political allies on Sunday that he would not cave in to "extortion" and might call an early vote. Israeli coalition governments rarely serve their full four-year terms, and early elections are common.
A months-long election campaign would make it even less likely that stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks would resume. It was unclear what effect it would have on prospects of Israel's attacking Iran to try to stop its nuclear program.
The Israeli official said Netanyahu is afraid that lawmakers in his coalition will make unreasonable budgetary demands. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing a closed meeting.
The Israeli leader, who heads a coalition dominated by religious and nationalist hard-liners, is facing pressures from many directions.
The government faces a court order to dismantle an unauthorized settler outpost in the West Bank by Tuesday. Hard-liners sympathetic to the settlers have warned the coalition could fall apart if the outpost is torn down.
Netanyahu is also scrambling to comply with a court order to end draft exemptions for Jewish religious seminary students.
Religious elements in the coalition oppose any change to the law, but Netanyahu's powerful partner, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, has threatened to bring down the government if the exemptions are extended.
Secular Israelis believe the exemptions unfairly burden the country's secular majority. Lieberman, who heads the secular Yisrael Beitenu party, has said he will submit alternative legislation for a parliamentary vote on May 9, bringing the issue to head.
According to the latest opinion polls, dovish opposition parties lag far behind Netanyahu's Likud.
On Sunday, former TV anchorman turned politician Yair Lapid registered a new party known as "Yesh Atid," or "there is a future."
In a Facebook announcement Sunday, Lapid said he formed his party because "the Israeli middle class, the creative and working public, which pays taxes and serves in the army, does not have a voice or someone to defend its interests."
Lapid, one of the country's most famous faces, is expected to primarily take votes away from the centrist opposition Kadima party and not pose a serious threat to Netanyahu.
Amy Teibel and Daniella Cheslow contributed reporting.