Archive for November 19th, 2018

Netanyahu takes on defense post amid call for early polls

November 18, 2018

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he would take on the defense minister portfolio, rejecting calls to dissolve his government even as early elections appeared increasingly likely.

Netanyahu said heading to elections now, amid repeated violent confrontations with Gaza militants, was “irresponsible” of his coalition partners, who have been pushing for early polls since the resignation last week of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman over a Gaza cease-fire.

“Today, I take on for the first time the position of defense minister,” said Netanyahu, speaking from Israel’s defense headquarters in Tel Aviv in a statement broadcast live at the top of the evening newscasts.

“We are in one of the most complex security situations and during a period like this, you don’t topple a government. During a period like this you don’t go to elections,” he said. The sudden coalition crisis was sparked by the resignation of the hawkish Lieberman, who had demanded a far stronger response last week to the most massive wave of rocket attacks on Israel since the 2014 Israel-Hamas war. He alleges the cease-fire agreement reached with Gaza’s Hamas rulers will put southern Israel under a growing threat from the group, similar to that posed to northern Israel by Lebanon’s heavily armed Hezbollah group.

The departure of Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party leaves the coalition with a one-seat majority in the 120-member parliament. Netanyahu’s other partners say that makes governing untenable and would leave the coalition susceptible to the extortion of any single lawmaker until elections scheduled for November 2019.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, has already threatened to bring down the government if he is not appointed defense minister. He and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, also of Jewish Home, are set to deliver a statement to the media Monday. If the party leaves the coalition, it would strip Netanyahu of his parliamentary majority.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, another senior partner, says another year of such instability will harm the economy. A meeting between him and Netanyahu Sunday meant to convince Kahlon to stay ended with no results.

Netanyahu’s Likud allies are already preparing to pin the blame on coalition partners if the effort to salvage the government fails. “I think that there is no reason to shorten the term of a national government, not even for one day, and at this moment it’s in the hands of the education minister and the finance minister,” said Gilad Erdan, the minister of public security.

No Israeli government has served out its full term since 1988. Since then, elections have almost always been moved up because of a coalition crisis or a strategic move by the prime minister to maximize his chances of re-election.

Though Netanyahu has been reportedly flirting with the idea of moving up elections himself in recent months, the current timing is not ideal for him. He has come under heavy criticism for agreeing to the Gaza cease-fire, especially from within his own political base and in the working-class, rocket-battered towns in southern Israel that are typically strongholds of his Likud Party. But with Lieberman forcing his hand and the other coalition partners appearing eager to head to the polls he may not have a choice.

Most opinion polls show Netanyahu easily securing re-election, which would secure him a place in Israeli history as the country’s longest serving leader. But several factors could trip him up, 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 long 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-driven witch-hunt that is obsessed with removing him from office.

Associated Press writer Aron Heller in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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Netanyahu’s main coalition partner pushes for early election

November 16, 2018

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel moved closer to early elections Friday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main coalition partner, the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, said it wants a vote “as soon as possible,” and will press for consultations on a date on Sunday.

The call for early elections came after a meeting Friday between Netanyahu and Education Minister and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett. The two men have been locked in a tense rivalry, with Bennett often criticizing Netanyahu from the right.

Bennett had demanded the post of defense minister, after the incumbent, Avigdor Lieberman, resigned earlier this week in protest over Netanyahu’s Gaza policies. A senior Jewish Home official said it became clear after the Bennett-Netanyahu meeting that there “is a need to go to elections as soon as possible.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing the content of a closed meeting.

The official said leaders of coalition parties will meet Sunday to coordinate the date for early elections. The apparent failure of the Netanyahu-Bennett meeting seemed to seal the coalition’s fate. The departure of Lieberman and his Israel Beitenu party had left the coalition with a one-seat majority in the 120-member parliament. Without Bennett’s Jewish Home, Netanyahu’s coalition would lose its parliamentary majority.

The political crisis began with a botched Israeli undercover raid in Gaza on Sunday. The raid led to two days of intense cross-border fighting. Gaza’s Hamas rulers fired hundreds of rockets at southern Israel, while Israeli warplanes targeted scores of targets in Gaza.

After two days, Egypt brokered an informal truce between Israel and the Islamic militant Hamas. Netanyahu averted a war, but drew blistering criticism from ultra-nationalists. Lieberman resigned in protest on Wednesday.

On Friday, he toured southern Israel and accused Netanyahu of being soft on terrorism. He said Netanyahu’s Gaza policy is strengthening Hamas. Lieberman alleged that the truce will put southern Israel under a growing threat from Hamas, similar to the threat posed to northern Israel by Lebanon’s heavily armed Hezbollah militia.

“It’s impossible that after Hamas launches 500 rockets at the Israeli border communities, the heads of Hamas are actually getting immunity from the Israeli cabinet,” he told reporters. “We are now feeding a monster” that will only grow if not stopped, he said. “Within a year we will have a twin brother of Hezbollah, with all the implications.”

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