Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will meet on Sunday with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in a last-ditch effort to avoid new elections. The meeting comes after a round of meetings Friday by Netanyahu with coalition partners, including Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett.
The latter has demanded that he be named defense minister in place of Avigdor Liberman, a move Netanyahu has resisted. The results of the meeting between the two on Friday were inconclusive, leading to media reports that said that elections were set to be called. Those reports were fueled by claims that Kahlon had already told Netanyahu that he was opposed to Bennett’s appointment as defense minister, preferring early elections over that possibility.
Those reports were denied later Friday afternoon by Netanyahu’s office, but in an interview on Channel 13, Bennett said that his party had not set an ultimatum on the Defense portfolio, that Jewish Home would resign from the government if he were not named defense minister. “There is no need for an ultimatum, because the prime minister already told me that I would get the Defense portfolio.” Kahlon, meanwhile, was quoted by Kan News as saying that in any event he would not break up the government, which, even without Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, has 61 members.
Speaking on Hadashot News, Kahlon said that although he wanted to remain in the government, it was impossible to continue long-term with only 61 members, as it would lead to the possibility that any party could “blackmail” Netanyahu for anything it wants. Kahlon added that he had no problem with Bennett being named defense minister.
In a statement Motzoei Shabbos, Netanyahu said that “if [Kahlon’s] Kulanu does not break up the government, there will be a government. We cannot break up a right-wing government. All members of the Likud are prepared to remain in the government and serve until the end of its term in November 2019.”
Meanwhile, Hadashot News reported that despite the claims by both Bennett and Kahlon, Netanyahu has come to realize that early elections are an inevitability – and that he had set March 26th as the election date. Netanyahu, the report said, had told Bennett that he will not get the portfolio, and that he was taking the Defense portfolio for himself. “Right now the essence of the struggle is the blame game,” said analysts on Hadashot News. “The question is who will be the first to drop out, and on whom will Netanyahu place the blame for breaking up the government.”