Opposition politicians Tuesday night welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that he would be calling general elections “as soon as possible” — presumably in January of 2013.
Shaul Mofaz, the leader of Kadima — with 28 seats the largest party in the Knesset — said elections were long overdue, and that the Netanyahu-led government had reduced Israel to “pariah status” with its mishandling of Israeli-Palestinian relations, and caused great harm to the economy.
Mofaz, whose party is expected to crash in the vote, joined Netanyahu in a short-lived coalition alliance in May, and has since emerged as a constant critic of the prime minister, including by accusing him of contemplating irresponsible “misadventures” on Iran.
Shelly Yachimovich, the Labor leader who is expected to raise her party’s Knesset representation, asserted in a Channel 2 News interview that she stood “a reasonable chance” of unseating Netanyahu as prime minister. In earlier interviews, however, Yachimovich did not rule out the possibility of joining a Netanyahu-led government.
Yair Lapid, a former TV news presenter who is set to run for election for the first time, said it was was past time “to change the government.”
Labor faction chairman MK Isaac Herzog said Netanyahu would be held accountable for his policies.
“Netanyahu announced the new elections while ensconced in his room, without answering the tough questions,” he said. “But we’ll be asking the tough questions about the failure of his government.”
Within the coalition, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, the chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, said elections would be decided over “[Israelis'] loss of livelihood and the unprecedented price hikes on [basic] commodities, over chutzpah and piggishness.” He claimed that Netanyahu’s decision to hold early elections had come after Shas refused to lend its support to a “budget that would trample the middle class and the poor.”
Avigdor Liberman, foreign minister and head of Yisrael Beytenu, said his party was ready for elections, and expected to improve on its current 15 seats.
Yisrael Eichler, of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism, said the elections would revolve around the right of the ultra-Orthodox community to maintain its lifestyle and values — “even to keep a roof over its head” — and that “every last voter” would be coming to the ballot box from his community. The remarks were in part a reference to stymied efforts in the current Knesset to require military or national service from young ultra-Orthodox males.
Ehud Barak, Netanyahu’s defense minister, said he was confident his Independence Party — which he established when breaking off from Labor in order to remain in the coalition — would clear the threshold for Knesset representation.