Netanyahu: Israel May Be Headed to Early Elections

(Reuters/Hamodia) -

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, enmeshed in a cabinet crisis, said on Monday he would call an early national election unless rebellious ministers stopped attacking government policies.

The divisions have prompted speculation that Netanyahu will bring forward an election that is not scheduled until 2017.

In public remarks to members of his Likud party, Netanyahu gave his strongest indication yet that an early ballot could be in the offing.

“I have not enjoyed the fulfillment of even the most fundamental obligation — the loyalty and responsibility of ministers to the government in which they serve,” he said.

“I demand these ministers stop their undermining, stop the attacks,” Netanyahu added.

“I demand that they close ranks behind the proper policy for leading the nation, for its security, economy and lowering the cost of living, in every aspect. If they agree to do so, we can continue to work together. If they refuse, we will draw conclusions, and go to the voters.”

Netanyahu met on Monday with Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who has been sparring with the prime minister over the 2015 state budget. Media reports indicated that the meeting had ended with sharp disagreement on the key issues, with Lapid rejecting Netanyahu’s demands.

An opinion poll published by the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper on Sunday showed that although Netanyahu’s popularity was declining, he was still very likely to win a fourth term as prime minister if an election were held today.

The poll showed Netanyahu’s approval rating had slipped to 35 percent, compared with 42 percent at the end of Operation Protective Edge, the July-August war against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip, but he still led the race against other potential contenders.

The last parliamentary election was held in January 2013, with Netanyahu then taking two months to piece together a five-party coalition government.