Amid coalition crisis, opposition leaders ramp up calls for elections

In wake of defense minister’s resignation, Zionist Union chairman Gabbay says there is ‘no other solution’ except going to the polls

Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni, right, and Zionist Union party chairman Avi Gabai, hold a press conference following the resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, at the Knesset, on November 14, 2018. (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)
Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni, right, and Zionist Union party chairman Avi Gabai, hold a press conference following the resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, at the Knesset, on November 14, 2018. (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)

Israel’s opposition leaders on Wednesday called for immediate elections following the resignation of the defense minister and a threat from another coalition party to topple the government if it is not given the defense portfolio instead.

At a joint press conference, Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay and opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was collapsing under its own cynicism and that the country could not longer be left in the hands of the coalition.

Earlier, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced his resignation in protest of a reported ceasefire agreement with the Hamas terror group after two days of intense rocket fire from the Gaza Strip which was countered with Israeli airstrikes.

Liberman took his Yisrael Beytenu party with him out of the coalition, leaving the government with a narrow 61 to 59 seat majority in the Knesset. The Jewish Home party then threatened to bring down the government if the Defense Ministry is not given to party leader, Education Minister Naftali Bennett. New elections must be held anyway within the coming 12 months.

“Today is a day of hope,” Gabbay told gathered media at the Knesset. “A day in which the political cynicism between Netanyahu and Liberman explodes. A day in which the cynicism collapses in on itself and brings disintegration. I call for elections now. There is no other solution. This is the time for a big, broad move, a move of unity that connects between everyone who wants change.”

Gabbay recalled that he resigned from his post as Environmental Protection Minister in 2016 — which he held despite not being a member of parliament — in protest of Liberman’s appointment as defense minister.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announces his resignation from the ministry position following the ceasefire with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, during a press conference in the Knesset on November 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Livni backed Gabbay’s call for elections and declared, “This needs to be the end of a weak government.”

“We can’t leave the country in their hands,” she said. “Liberman opened the door, and now they all need to exit through it.”

Netanyahu held consultations with coalition party leaders during the day as the coalition teetered under Bennett’s ultimatum.

The Jewish Home party held a faction meeting during which its MKs voted unanimously in favor of leaving the coalition if Netanyahu does not make Bennett defense minister, a party source told the Times of Israel.

They also voted to give Bennett full authority to carry out negotiations based on that ultimatum directly with the prime minister. A party spokesman declined to say how long Netanyahu had to make Bennett defense minister before they would pull out of the coalition and bring the government down.

Education Minister and chairman of the Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett arrives at the Knesset for a faction meeting, November 14, 2018. (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)

Immediately after the announcement of Liberman’s resignation, the opposition Meretz party announced it plans to propose a bill to dissolve the Knesset next week.

Party head MK Tamar Zandberg praised the resignation, saying that the country is better off without “the racist and corrupt minister who has degraded Israeli politics.”

MK Yair Lapid, who leads the opposition Yesh Atid party, said that the resignation was proof of Netanyahu’s weakness in the face of terror emanating from the Gaza Strip.

“The resignation of the defense minister reinforces the fact that the prime minister has surrendered to terrorism at the expense of the residents of the south,” he tweeted.

Liberman said his decision came in light of the ceasefire reportedly agreed on Tuesday between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in Gaza following an unprecedentedly fierce two-day barrage of over 460 rockets fired by Hamas and other terror groups toward Israel.

In announcing that he would be resigning as defense minister, Liberman himself called for the government to be dismantled and for new elections to be called.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely was the first senior Likud official to speak out on Liberman’s resignation, slamming him as a “cynical” politician.

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