Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to be left with no choice but to call a general election in the Spring of 2019, after Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Interior Minister Arye Deri both said on Thursday that it was the preferable outcome following Avigdor Liberman’s resignation as defense minister.
Kahlon said in a meeting with Netanyahu that it would be best for Israel to go to an election quickly.
“In the current situation, the right thing for the citizens of Israel and the Israeli economy is to go to an election as soon as possible,” Kahlon said.
The stability necessary at this time is unattainable as long as there is political uncertainty, according to Kahlon, and going to an election in order to form a new, strong and stable government would be the most responsible thing to do.
Kahlon also offered to coordinate the official dissolution of the Knesset and select the date for the national election.
Soon afterward, Deri met with Netanyahu and told him following Kahlon’s statement that there should be an election as soon as possible “for the good of the country,” and the date should be coordinated with party leaders.
The coalition partners are currently working to find an agreed-upon date for the elections. The earliest legal date – assuming the Knesset is dissolved next week – is February 19. Deri and Kahlon are aiming for an election in March.
March 12 or 26 would be the likely dates, because the Purim holiday falls on March 21. Netanyahu prefers to wait until May. May 21 or 28 are the only likely dates because Remembrance Day, Independence Day and the Eurovision song competition are earlier that month.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett reiterated his ultimatum that he be made defense minister instead of Liberman, or his Bayit Yehudi Party will leave the coalition. Netanyahu is expected to meet with Bennett on Friday morning. The prime minister has signaled Bennett that he may be willing to appoint him defense minister, though the option is likely no longer relevant in light of Kahlon and Deri’s remarks.
Bennett said he would have one goal as defense minister – “for Israel to win again” – and he vowed to bring “innovation, creativity and a fighting spirit” to the job.
“Without taking responsibility for security and without a drastic change, Israeli deterrence will continue to be worn out and Hamas will continue to be unafraid of us,” Bennett added in a speech at an education-related event on Thursday.
Some in the Likud spoke out against Bennett, with Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev saying he is blackmailing Netanyahu and should not break up a right-wing government.
Similarly, Netanyahu’s son, Yair, warned his “right-wing brothers” against repeating what happened in 1992. After a right-wing party left Yitzhak Shamir’s coalition, Yitzhak Rabin and Labor won the subsequent election, leading to Rabin signing the Oslo Accords.
“Giving the Left another chance to do what they did in Oslo, the withdrawal from Lebanon and the disengagement – will be an existential danger to Israel,” the younger Netanyahu concluded.
On Thursday morning, Liberman tendered his resignation letter to Netanyahu.
When Liberman announced his resignation from the Defense Ministry and his Yisrael Beytenu Party’s departure from the coalition at a press conference in the Knesset on Wednesday, he said a ceasefire with Hamas “cannot be interpreted in any way other than a capitulation to terrorism.”
“This will severely harm our security in the long run. The response that we gave to the 500 rockets shot from Gaza was not enough, to say the least. The South should come first. Our weakness is being broadcast to other fronts,” he said.
His resignation will take effect on Saturday, and Netanyahu will automatically retain the portfolio, unless and until he appoints a new defense minister.
With Liberman’s resignation
, Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky will automatically be removed from the Knesset. She became a legislator two-and-a-half years ago as part of the Norwegian Law, by which a minister may resign from the Knesset, allowing someone to take his or her place. But if the minister leaves the government, she or he gets a seat in the Knesset again, removing the newcomer.
Also on Thursday, Likud MK Jacky Levy resigned from the Knesset, after being elected mayor of Beit She’an. He will be replaced by Osnat Mark, bringing the number of women in the legislature to a record 36, for the apparently few months remaining for the 20th Knesset.
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