Shortly before addressing the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu renewed his public call on his coalition partners to remain in the government and allow it to finish its term.
“As I said last night, we’re in the midst of a [military] campaign that has not yet ended. At such a sensitive time, it’s irresponsible to topple the government,” he said before addressing a closed-door meeting of the committee.
“Whether our partners decide to topple the government or not, we will continue to work to ensure the security of Israel and the safety of our citizens,” he added, just minutes before the leaders of Jewish Home, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, announced in another Knesset committee room down the hall that their eight-member party would remain in the government after all.
Speaking in the Knesset shortly after Netanyahu, Bennett said he had decided to “stand by the prime minister’s side” and would not act on his pledge to leave the coalition if he is not appointed defense minister in the wake of Avigdor Liberman’s resignation.
Citing what he described as a series of failures by the country’s leadership, Bennett said “the ship of Israel’s security has sailed in the wrong direction. We have come to believe that there is no solution to terror, to rockets and mortars. But there is an answer, we can get back to winning.”
Despite the criticism, the Jewish Home leader said he believed that Netanyahu would be able to “change direction” with him by his side.
Bennett’s announcement saved the Netanyahu government from early elections, as a withdrawal of Bennett’s eight-member Jewish Home faction would have pushed Netanyahu’s coalition into the minority.
But Netanyahu’s coalition still hangs by the slimmest of margins, with 61 seats in a Knesset of 120 members. If the government is to survive its full allotted time until the next mandatory election day in November 2019, Netanyahu will have to keep all his partners happy.
Netanyahu was invited to speak to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last week following a Tuesday ceasefire deal reached with Hamas after a two-day rocket barrage from the Gaza Strip.
Committee chair MK Avi Dichter of Netanyahu’s Likud party quipped Monday morning that it was the first time the powerful Knesset body, which oversees Israel’s defense agencies and foreign policy, would hear a briefing from the prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister “at the same time” — three positions all now held by Netanyahu after the resignation of Liberman last week in protest over the Gaza ceasefire deal.
Liberman’s resignation, and the withdrawal of his five-member Yisrael Beytenu faction from the coalition, triggered the current political crisis.
With Bennett’s Monday announcement that Jewish Home would remain in the coalition, the immediate threat of early elections appears to have passed, but Netanyahu remains premier by dint of a razor-thin majority that leaves him vulnerable to collapse at any moment and could make it all but impossible for his coalition to make controversial decisions or pass meaningful legislation for the remaining lifespan of the current government.