Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party are reportedly intending to announce their resignation on Monday, in a move that would topple the governing coalition.
Citing sources in the national-religious Jewish Home party, Hadashot television news reported on Sunday night that the announcement will be made at a joint press conference the two senior ministers called for Monday morning in the Knesset.
The television report came minutes before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau held his own press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv where, after holding talks with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, he announced that he intends to serve as Israel’s defense minister.
Bennett had threatened that if he were not given the defense portfolio, he would pull his Jewish Home party’s eight lawmakers out of the coalition, hastening elections.
The sudden coalition crisis was sparked by the resignation of former defense minister Avigdor Liberman, who had demanded a stronger Israeli response to the massive flareup in violence in the Gaza Strip last week.
The departure of Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party left the coalition with a razor-thin two-seat edge over the opposition in the 120-member Knesset. Netanyahu’s other coalition partners say that governing with such a small majority is untenable, and have called for early elections. Without the Jewish Home faction, the government would no longer have a majority.
Before meeting with Kahlon on Sunday evening in a “last effort” to save his government, Netanyahu met at the Defense Ministry with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, his nominated successor Aviv Kochavi, and Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Earlier, it was reported that Netanyahu will appoint a foreign minister in the coming days. Hebrew-language media said Netanyahu would likely appoint a Likud member as foreign minister, a post that he currently holds. Channel 10 news said Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz were being considered for the position.
Shortly after the reports were published, the Likud party released a statement saying the prime minister would “appoint ministers in the coming days,” without elaborating. Currently, the prime minister holds the foreign affairs, defense, health, and immigration absorption portfolios.
The Jewish Home party responded to Netanyahu’s announcement of the appointment of a foreign minister saying “does not change anything” regarding its demand that Naftali Bennett be made defense minister.
The party said that if Bennett is not made defense minister, “we should go to immediate elections. Without handing over the defense portfolio to Minister Bennett in order to extricate Israel from its severe security crisis, there is no point in having a leftist government.”
Speaking at his weekly cabinet meeting earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu said it would be unwise to embark on a divisive election campaign during such a sensitive time for national security.
Last week, television news reports said that if an election was called, it would likely be held in the spring.