Skip to main content

Netanyahu says early election in Israel must be avoided

Analysts see early election as done deal, with Netanyahu trying to keep right-wing voters by pinning blame for government failure on ministers
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with recently resigned defence minister Avigdor Lieberman (AFP/file photo)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday he wanted his government to fulfil its term, putting the onus of triggering an expected early election onto a coalition partner.

Netanyahu has faced calls from his coalition members to hold a snap election since the resignation of defence minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday, AFP reported.

Lieberman quit over what he described as the government's too-soft policy on an upsurge of cross-border violence with Palestinian fighters in the Gaza Strip, leaving the government with a razor-thin majority.

Israel's Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who heads the centrist Kulanu party, was the first coalition partner to call for an early election after meeting Netanyahu on Thursday.

Kahlon's calls were echoed by Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, and by members of the nationalist Jewish Home, whose head, Naftali Bennett, asked to succeed Lieberman as defence chief but was turned down by Netanyahu on Friday.

Netanyahu's office said in a statement that it was important for the prime minister himself to manage defence for now, given the "critical challenges facing the state," Bloomberg reported.

Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party said that he will meet Kahlon on Sunday "in a last attempt to convince him not to bring down the government".

"If the Kulanu faction doesn't bring the government down - there is a government," Netanyahu said on Twitter. "All Likud members want to keep serving the country for another whole year until the end of the term in November 2019."

In a statement, Netanyahu said that he "trusts the ministers not to topple a right-wing government and not to repeat the historic mistake of 92, when they toppled a right-wing government, put the left in power and brought the Oslo disaster on the State of Israel," Haaretz reported.

The Oslo process began through secret negotiations and resulted in mutual recognition by the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, eventually creating a Palestinian Authority tasked with limited self-governance of parts of the West Bank and Gaza.

Why Netanyahu really pushed for a Gaza ceasefire
Meron Rapoport
Read More »

The loss of Lieberman's Israel Beitenu faction leaves Netanyahu with control of just 61 of the 120 seats in parliament. Each of the remaining government factions now has the power effectively to dissolve the coalition.

Many political analysts in Israel see an early election as a done deal, with Netanyahu and ministers trying to pin responsibility for bringing the government down on each other so as not to lose favour with their right-wing voter base.

Netanyahu is under investigation in a series of corruption cases, and there has been speculation that he may bring the ballot forward to win a renewed mandate while Israel's attorney-general decides whether to indict him.

Both Lieberman and Bennett compete with Netanyahu's Likud for right-wing voters and have spoken in favour of harsh Israeli military action against Hamas in Gaza.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also attempted to persuade Netanyahu to start a conflict with Hamas as part of a plan to divert attention from the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, sources inside Saudi Arabia told Middle East Eye earlier this week.

A poll published on Wednesday by Israel's Hadashot television news showed Likud falling by one seat from 30 to 29 after months of polls that had shown it gaining power. Only 17 percent of respondents were happy with Netanyahu's Gaza policy.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.