Netanyahu takes on defence post amid call for early polls

Saul Bowman
November 20, 2018

Lieberman's resignation left Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a 61-member coalition in the 120-member Knesset.

Lieberman said, after resigning from the Israeli cabinet, that Hamas was on its way to becoming a serious threat to Israel, saying that, in a year's time, the group and its partner in Gaza, the Islamic Jihad Movement, would reach the military prowess of Hezbollah, the dominant resistance movement in Lebanon which has successfully defended the small country against Israeli aggression, in the past.

Naftali Bennett, of the Jewish Home party, had signalled he would quit, but announced on Monday he would stay on.

Jewish Home, meanwhile, rose slightly from its current 8 seats to 9 and Yisrael Beytenu, the party of the man whose resignation triggered the week-long political crisis, rose from its current 5 to 8.

As for the way he handled the latest round of fighting with Hamas, which came under heavy criticism from his own constituency, Netanyahu reassured the citizens of Israel that he knows what he is doing, and that, though he understands the frustration and confusion that followed the ceasefire, we, the citizens, don't know the full picture, which for security reasons can't be disclosed. It is worth stating that there are also quite a few people who breathed a sigh of relief Sunday night when they learned that Bennett, who only yesterday promised that as defense minister he will turn the ship around and that the IDF will return to be victorious, will not receive the portfolio he set as an ultimatum for his continued tenure in the government.

The veteran premier was to meet Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, whose centre-right Kulanu party has 10 seats, later Sunday to discuss ways of holding the coalition together.

In a sign of a possible agreement being worked out, a spokesman for Netanyahu's Likud party said the premier would "decide on the appointment of ministers in the coming days", but provided no further details.

Kahlon's spokesman explained that the minister's position had not changed, and he still believes a one-seat majority destabilizes the coalition and leaves it open to extortion and "anti-fiscal bills" from backbenchers. Since then, elections have nearly always been moved up because of a coalition crisis or a strategic move by the prime minister to maximize his chances of re-election.


But the release date is now likely to be influenced by the political crisis in Israel that has expected to spark early elections, Axios reported, citing unnamed USA officials.

However, Bennett did express some doubts about Netanyahu's true intentions.

Kahlon's office said earlier that his meeting with Netanyahu ended without a conclusion and they would meet again later in the week.

An Israeli army spokesperson said on Monday that 750 Palestinians took part in "clashes" near the border and threw stones towards soldiers who responded, "by using anti-riot measures and firing in line with standard operational procedures".

Were elections to be held now, Netanyahu's Likud party would still win by a landslide, a survey conducted by Hadashot revealed on Wednesday.

"The security of the country is above political considerations", Netanyahu said while insisting that calling elections now would be "irresponsible". When a truce was reached through United Nations and Egyptian mediation on Tuesday, Lieberman blasted the deal as "capitulation to terror" and quit.

But Netanyahu would want to make such a move at the most advantageous time and likely not with public attention focused on the Gaza ceasefire.

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