Israel’s Netanyahu says early election must be avoided

File photo of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attending a weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem. (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday he wanted his government to fulfill its term, putting the onus of triggering an expected early election on to a coalition partner.

Netanyahu has faced calls from his coalition members to hold a snap election after the resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday.

Lieberman quit over what he described as the government’s too-soft policy on an upsurge of cross-border violence with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, leaving the government with a razor-thin majority.

Israel’s Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who heads the centrist Kulanu party, was the first coalition partner to call for an early election after meeting Netanyahu on Thursday.

Kahlon’s calls were echoed by Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party and by members of the nationalist Jewish Home whose head, Naftali Bennett, asked to succeed Lieberman as defense chief but was turned down by Netanyahu on Friday.

Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party said that he will meet Kahlon on Sunday “in a last attempt to convince him not to bring down the government.”

“If the Kulanu faction doesn’t bring the government down - there is a government,” Netanyahu said on Twitter. “All Likud members want to keep serving the country for another whole year until the end of the term in November 2019.”

The loss of Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu faction leaves Netanyahu with control of just 61 of the 120 seats in parliament. Each of the remaining government factions now has the power to effectively dissolve the coalition.

Political analysts in Israel see an early election as a done deal, with Netanyahu and ministers trying to pin responsibility for bringing the government down on each other so as not to lose favour with their right-wing voter base.

Netanyahu is under investigation in a series of corruption cases, and there has been speculation that he may bring the ballot forward to win a renewed mandate while Israel’s attorney-general decides whether to indict him.

Both Lieberman and Bennett compete with Netanyahu’s Likud for right-wing voters and have spoken in favor of harsh Israeli military action against Gaza’s dominant Hamas.

A poll published on Wednesday by Israel’s Hadashot television news showed Likud falling by one seat from 30 to 29 after months of polls that have shown it gaining power. Only 17 percent of respondents were happy with Netanyahu’s Gaza policy.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:58 - GMT 06:58
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