Early Elections Avoided in Israel after Coalition Crisis Eases

Early Elections Avoided in Israel after Coalition Crisis Eases

Monday, 19 November, 2018 - 10:00
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in a televised address to the nation in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on Sunday. (AFP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition partner backed off Monday from his demand for the defense ministry, easing a government crisis that could have led to early elections.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s U-turn surprised many pundits, who had predicted the leader of the far-right Jewish Home party would opt to quit in protest. He said the party was withdrawing all its political demands and would stand by the prime minister.

“You win some, you lose some,” Bennett said in a televised address, shrugging off Netanyahu’s rejection of his bid.

Netanyhu’s government was thrown in crisis last week when Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned over a contentious Gaza ceasefire following days of violence.

Had Bennett withdrawn his party from the weakened coalition, Netanyahu - who has assumed the defense post himself - would have been left with a minority government, making a snap election likely.

Lieberman, an ultra-nationalist, lashed out in his resignation announcement against what he described as the government’s leniency toward Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, amid a surge in cross-border unrest.

In a speech late on Sunday, Netanyahu urged coalition partners not to bring down the government, citing security challenges ahead and hinting at future action by Israel against its enemies.

An opinion poll last week suggested that Israelis were unhappy with the four-term prime minister over Gaza, causing a rare dip in his popularity ratings.

“We have an entire year until the election. We are in the midst of a campaign and you don’t pull out in the middle of a campaign or play politics. National security is beyond politics,” Netanyahu said in his speech on Sunday.

“I will not say this evening when we will act and how. I have a clear plan. I know what to do and when to do it. And we will do it.”

Bennett referred to Netanyahu’s address in saying that Jewish Home, which has eight lawmakers, would remain in his coalition.

“If the prime minister is serious, and I want to believe his words last night, then I say here to the prime minister: We are withdrawing all our political demands and we will stand by you in this mighty task, so that Israel starts winning again.”

He gave Netanyahu another chance to address the security challenges facing Israel, listing off threats from Gaza and Lebanon, among others, which he wanted dealt with more firmly.

"If the government would really start leading toward the right path, acting like a real right-wing government, it's worth trying," he added. "The ball is in the prime minister's court."

While Bennett’s move put off early elections for now, it keeps the governing coalition on shaky ground with only a slim 61-seat majority in Israel's 120-seat parliament.

But Netanyahu may find a challenge to his rule from other corners, including a potential corruption indictment that could knock him out of contention.

Police have recommended he be indicted on bribery and breach of trust charges in two cases and have questioned him at length on another. The country has been eagerly awaiting the attorney general's decision on whether to press charges.

Netanyahu has angrily dismissed the accusations against him, characterizing them as part of a media-orchestrated witch-hunt that is obsessed with removing him from office.

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