Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to try to stop an early election and convince his coalition partners to keep the government together, despite their public statements that this government has come to an end.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Education Minister Naftali Bennett have agreed to a March election date, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.
Netanyahu is set to meet with Kahlon Sunday morning in a final attempt to convince him not to topple the government.
“If Kulanu does not bring down the government, we have a government. We cannot topple a right-wing government,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter. “All of the Likud faction’s members are interested in continuing to serve the country for another year, until the term ends in November 2019.”
Over the weekend, Netanyahu also warned against repeating the precedent of 1992, in which a right-wing party left the coalition, Labor won the subsequent election, and then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords.
Kahlon responded a “coalition of 61 is impossible,” referring to the one-seat majority remaining after Avigdor Liberman resigned as defense minister on Thursday, and said in an interview with Meet the Press that he’s “interested in doing what Kulanu believes in, not just to try to have another month or two” in office.
Still, Kahlon said he would meet with Netanyahu and see what he has to say.
As for Netanyahu’s focus on toppling a right-wing government, Kahlon said: “This spin doesn’t work on me… I have no doubt, according to the [poll] numbers, that we’ll have a right-wing government next time, too.”
However, Kahlon would not say he endorses Netanyahu for prime minister.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett said on Saturday that there is no government, because a one-seat majority leaves it too open to rebellion and blackmail by backbenchers, and it is not right-wing, because it “surrendered to Hamas” and has not demolished West Bank Bedouin enclave Khan al-Ahmar.
“The voters are frustrated that they vote for the Right and get the Left, and that’s what this election is about,” Bennett said more than once, in what could be an opening shot for his party’s election campaign. “The central matter isn’t who will be prime minister, because it will be Netanyahu.”
Netanyahu’s spokesman said he rejected Bennett’s remarks, and “There is no reason to go to an election, and we must not dismantle a right-wing government. Bennett must show responsibility and lend a hand to taking down a government that can serve for another year.”
Bennett and Kahlon also responded to Liberman’s reason for resigning – his opposition to a ceasefire with Hamas, which Liberman called a capitulation.
Kahlon said that he does not “have complaints for Israeli citizens who are upset, because they’re right considering the information they have.” However, he said, security cabinet members have more information and did what the heads of all of the security branches unanimously recommended.
“To say the IDF isn’t acting [is absurd]... Don’t be impressed by Hamas’s bragging. We knew going to a truce would be unpopular... We are in a sensitive security situation and that is no secret,” Kahlon said.
Bennett, whose condition for staying in the coalition was to be appointed defense minister, accused Liberman of having been a left-wing defense minister who “met with the Qataris... While we fought to shoot at those who launched [incendiary] balloons, Liberman wanted containment... Two years ago, Liberman inherited a situation in which Hamas was deterred. In the last week, they shot 470 rockets at us. I am coming to redirect the ship’s course.”
Kahlon denied reports that he had vetoed Bennett or anyone else as defense minister, and Bennett said Netanyahu told him he has no problem with him in the position.
On Friday, Netanyahu met with Bennett and said it seemed that the coalition could not survive with 61 seats and an early election was inevitable, according to a source with knowledge of the meeting.
However, in the statement released by his office after the meeting, Netanyahu said he told Bennett “The rumors that a decision has been made to go to an early election are not correct.” Netanyahu also said he will retain the defense portfolio, which automatically reverted to him after Liberman resigned from the position.
Asked to comment on the inconsistency Saturday, Bennett said: “I’m not playing these games... I don’t understand it. We really don’t have a government.”
After Liberman resigned from the defense ministry and pulled his Yisrael Beytenu party from the coalition on Thursday, leaving it with a one-seat majority, Kahlon was the first to call for an election to be held as soon as possible. Soon after, Interior Minister Arye Deri said that, in light of Kahlon’s statement, he says the same.
Meanwhile, United Torah Judaism has yet to put out any kind of statement about an early election, but their seven seats are not enough to save Netanyahu’s government.
Despite his pleas to keep the coalition intact, Netanyahu’s meetings with party leaders next week will likely be focused on reaching an agreed-upon date for the election.
Legally – assuming the Knesset will be dispersed in the coming week – the earliest date would be February 19. If Kahlon and Bennett are aiming for March, the 5th, 12th or 26th would be the likely dates, because the Purim holiday falls on March 21. However, they may opt for the latest date because Netanyahu is seeking to delay the election.
Netanyahu prefers to wait until May, according to Channel 2 News. May 21 or 28 are the only viable dates because Remembrance Day, Independence Day and the Eurovision song competition are earlier that month.
Meanwhile, Zionist Union submitted a bill to disperse the Knesset.
Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay said “We call for elections now, as early as possible because the time has come for Israel to have an election that offers hope, that knows there can be a change and wants change. We need an election to put Israel back on the path of initiative and courage.”
Bennett announced on Saturday night that an election is inevitable on the Israeli weekly television show "Meet the Press".
Bennett met with prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday.
He also accused former Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman of overthrowing a right-wing government and said that Netanyahu had no problem giving away the defense portfolio.
"At first he said he had no problem giving the defense portfolio, so the ultimatum is irrelevant. If we subtract the rebels, we are 56 knesset members and we will not survive this way.
"The prime minister is trying to hold the government, but I agree - we have no government. Liberman dropped the government at his exit."
Sources close to the prime minister rejected Bennett's remarks and said, "There is no reason to go to elections and the right-wing government should not be overthrown. Bennett must show responsibility and not give a hand to topple the government that could serve for another year. "
Bennett added, "We tried to hold two-and-a-half years ago, you know the extortion of such a government, and this is a government that does not evacuate Khan Al-Ahmar and erodes deterrence, it is not a government. In the end, there is a battle over who is the doctor and who will determine the death of the patient, there is no government, there was a government for four years, it was good that it advanced, there were right and left lines, today we have no government and we have no choice but to go to elections. The discussion is not dramatic, because it has been ongoing for several months." Earlier, in a hiccup issued by Prime Minister Netanyahu, he blamed the government for Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who expressed his opposition to Bennett's appointment to the senior position, and called on him not to lead Israel to an early election.
"Tomorrow morning I will meet with Moshe Kahlon for a decisive meeting before the cabinet meeting, in a last attempt to convince him not to topple the government," Netanyahu wrote, adding that, "if all of us do not topple the government, there is a government to continue to serve the country for another full year until the end of its term in November 2019."
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