Amid coalition turmoil, key partners Kahlon and Deri call for early elections

Following defense minister’s resignation, finance and interior ministers tell Netanyahu that heading to the polls would be beneficial for Israel

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Interior  Minister Aryeh Deri  in Jerusalem on December 27, 2015. (Flash90)
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri in Jerusalem on December 27, 2015. (Flash90)

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri on Thursday urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call early elections, with Kahlon, the Kulanu party chief, saying it was the “most responsible” step after Avigdor Liberman’s resignation as defense minister left the coalition with the smallest possible parliamentary majority.

“As things stand, the best thing for the citizens of Israel and the Israeli economy is to hold elections as soon as possible,” Kahlon told Netanyahu in a meeting, according to sources close to the finance minister.

The call came amid growing speculation that Netanyahu may be forced to call early elections following Liberman’s resignation, announced Wednesday and formalized on Thursday morning, in protest of a ceasefire agreement with Hamas that brought an end to a major flareup in violence in the Gaza Strip.

According to Hadashot news, Kahlon said that new elections that would result in a  stable government would be “the most responsible course of action.”

Deri, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, also told Netanyahu in a meeting that elections should be held as soon as possible and that a date should be agreed upon by all party heads.

Calling early elections is in the “best interest of the state,” Deri said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, October 28, 2018 (Ohad Zwigenberg/YEDIOTH AHRONOTH/POOL)

Both Kahlon’s Kulanu and Deri’s Shas are key coalition partners for Netanyahu.

Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party is quitting Netanyahu’s coalition, leaving the premier with only a two-seat advantage (61-59) over the opposition in parliament — the bare-minimum majority — and throwing his government into turmoil.

Netanyahu began consultations with heads of parties in his coalition to stabilize it on Wednesday evening.

Netanyahu has not yet named Liberman’s replacement, and has not indicated if he will comply with an ultimatum by the Jewish Home party, which is demanding the defense portfolio in the wake of Liberman’s departure.

The prime minister is due to meet the Jewish Home leader, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, on Friday.

Israelis protest at the entrance to the southern city of Ashkelon on November 14, 2018, over a ceasefire ending an exchange of violence with Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip. (Jack Guez/AFP)

On Wednesday, Liberman told reporters he was resigning over the ceasefire reached with Gaza terror groups following an unprecedentedly intense two-day rocket barrage on Israel’s south.

“What happened yesterday, the ceasefire, together with the deal with Hamas, is a capitulation to terror. There is no other way of explaining it,” Liberman told reporters.

“What we’re doing now as a state is buying short-term quiet, with the price being severe long-term damage to national security,” he said, adding that early elections should be held “as soon as possible.”

Other defense officials also leveled harsh criticism of the government’s handling of the Gaza flareup, telling Kan on Thursday morning that security considerations in Israel were becoming increasingly politicized.

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

On Tuesday evening, the security cabinet agreed to an informal ceasefire with Hamas in a decision that several cabinet ministers later said they opposed.

Liberman, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett proposed an alternative response, but it was rejected by the other ministers at the meeting, according to Channel 10.

The decision was slammed by some opposition leaders, who called it a capitulation to terror after a deadly two-day conflagration that saw over 400 rockets and mortar shells fired at southern Israel. Netanyahu has defended the ceasefire deal that ended the worst escalation between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in Gaza since a 2014 war.

An official from Netanyahu’s Likud party hit back at speculation that early elections would be called and said Wednesday that the prime minister would take charge of Liberman’s portfolio at least temporarily.

“There’s no obligation to go to an election in this time of security sensitivity,” Jonathan Urich, Netanyahu’s spokesperson, wrote on Twitter. Elections are currently scheduled for November 2019.

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