With the resignation of Avigdor Liberman as defense minister and the official withdrawal of his Yisrael Beytenu party from the government, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government is left with a majority of 61 votes – barely enough to run a government, making early elections a near certainty. Coalition chairperson MK David Amsalem told Reshet Bet Thursday that if the government does break up, the fault will lie not with Liberman, but with Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
“There are going to be elections in 2019 anyway,” Amsalem said, as the government’s five-year term would be up in November in any event. “It will be very difficult to run a coalition like this for a full year. But we don’t want to call elections immediately. There are things we need to accomplish first, and then there will be elections.”
But if the price of keeping even the narrow coalition together is appointing Naftali Bennett defense minister, it would be better to go to elections sooner than later, he said. “As far as I am concerned Bennett is the one responsible for this crisis. Bennett has for months mocked Liberman, calling him incapable. This is no way to run a government. If you have a comment or criticism, you bring it up in a Cabinet meeting, not in a speech to the media. It’s not just Bennett, but also Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who has publicly said numerous times that Bennett should replace Liberman as defense minister.”
In his remarks at a news conference Wednesday announcing his resignation as defense minister, Liberman said that he had quit because of what he considered the government’s weak response to the mini-war in Gaza this week, and the quick acquiescence of Netanyahu to a ceasefire, which he himself opposed. He did not cite Bennett’s ongoing criticism of his performance as a factor.
Shaked, for her part, said on Army Radio that Bennett deserved a shot at defense minister. “If anyone knows what to do under these circumstances, it’s Bennett,” she said. “It is in the prime minister’s interests to work with us. Netanyahu needs to decide if he wants elections next November, or sooner.”
Moments after Liberman’s resignation Wednesday, Jewish Home MK Shuli Muaellem-Refaeli told Kan News that the party would quit the government unless Bennett got the defense job. The declaration was approved as party policy at a meeting of MKs Wednesday night, with the party saying in a statement that “a government that cannot provide deterrence is not a right-wing government, and without taking responsibility for changing the current situation, together with the prime minister, there is no reason for us to remain in the government.”