The coalition crisis precipitated by the resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was, in itself, a serious blow, if not necessarily a devastating one, to the stability of the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Liberman not only quit the post of defense minister and took his Yisrael Beytenu party out of the coalition with him, he denounced the ceasefire agreement with Hamas as a “surrender to terror.”
Given the precarious nature of the ceasefire — which has not been formally accepted by Israel and could evaporate at any time with another rocket barrage from Gaza — the resignation cannot but undermine the ability of the military and civilian echelons to grapple with a volatile situation that could lead to war.
That would have been crisis enough for any government. But to add to the fun, Jewish Home party leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett has seized the opportunity to demand the defense portfolio for himself — or he leaves the government and takes his party with him.
The coalition, which post-Liberman numbers 61 MKs, still constitutes a majority in the Knesset, and could continue, as it had before Liberman joined. But if Bennett and party bolt on Monday morning, as they are reportedly planning to do, the government will surely fall and early elections will be called.
That doesn’t mean chaos will be instantly let loose. Reinforced IDF units remain on alert at the Gaza border. Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken over the defense ministry himself, at least for the time being. And it can fairly be assumed that the fellows who give orders at Hamas know that if they attack, they will surely provoke no less an Israeli retaliation, just as much as if Mr. Liberman were still in charge, or for that matter Mr. Bennett.
On Sunday night, Netanyahu gave a special broadcast address in prime time in which he said that in a time of security crisis such as this, one does not go to early elections. It would be irresponsible to do so.
Following his remarks, Likud ministers backed him and blamed coalition partners for the political crisis. If the coalition collapses and early elections must be held, it will be their fault for tearing the coalition apart with their demands and resignations.
Clearly, there is wide dissatisfaction with the ceasefire. Not only Liberman and Bennett, but many residents of southern Israel who have been under rocket fire and arson attacks and want a stop to it, and others besides, who believe that the only solution is to remove Hamas.
Prime Minister Netanyahu acknowledged the critics on Sunday night, but gave them no explanation. He said there were factors under consideration in handling the Gaza crisis about which he was not at liberty to reveal.
“Much of the criticism comes from the fact that the reasons [for our decisions] are based on [classified] material that simply cannot be revealed at this point,” he said.
In effect, he appealed to the people to trust him and his government that they are acting responsibly, in the best interests of the country, including those who live in places like Ashkelon and Sderot.
There is “no place for politics or personal considerations” when it comes to Israel’s security, said Netanyahu.
With Liberman now assailing Netanyahu from the outside, and Bennett insisting that only he can do the job that needs to be done in Gaza (presumably, as a member of the security cabinet, with knowledge of the same classified information that Netanyahu has), what little trust remains in the Israeli leaders may vanish by Monday morning when — or if — the coalition becomes history.
Whether the electorate will in fact blame Liberman and Bennett for whatever ugliness the election campaign brings, and Hashem yishmor, for whatever death and destruction occur in the intervening days, remains to be seen. Right now, the country is in the midst of a maelstrom of events, in which it is difficult indeed to see anything clearly.
But there is no question that if the coalition does come apart, those who caused it will bear a great responsibility for the events that follow.