Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman said Monday that the decision by leaders of the Jewish Home party to drop their ultimatum and remain in the coalition was emblematic of Israel’s inability to follow through on its military threat against terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
“Now everyone understands why we have lost our deterrence,” Liberman tweeted shortly after Education Minister Nafatli Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced they would not, after all, force early elections over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to make Bennett defense minister in the wake of Liberman’s resignation last week.
Liberman resigned last week in protest of what he said was the government’s light-handed treatment of Hamas following a recent deadly flareup with the Gaza Strip. A ceasefire agreement with the terror group was a “capitulation to terror,” he charged during a press conference announcing his resignation.
Before his resignation, in which he also pulled his Yisrael Beytenu party out of the coalition, Liberman had for months been sparring with Bennett, with each side accusing the other of soft policies on terror, which, they said, were interpreted as weakness by Hamas.
Rebuffing Bennett’s demand for the defense minister’s job, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday declared that he would keep the defense portfolio for himself, and called on his coalition members to not force early elections because Israel is in “one of our most complex periods in terms of security.”
Speaking at a joint press conference with Shaked Monday at the Knesset, Bennett said that he had decided to “stand by the prime minister’s side” despite his ultimatum.
Opposition lawmakers ridiculed Bennett and Shaked, while Likud MKs praised them for their decision.
Opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union accused the coalition of using the country’s security situation as political fodder.
“The cynical exploitation of Israel’s security for political gain is something that hasn’t been done for a long time,” she told Ynet. “The truth is that I was hoping we would go to elections, and that we would be the ones leading Israel’s security against the challenges we face”
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) welcomed the Jewish Home announcement.
“Bennett and Shaked did the right thing, rather than dragging us to an election to the tune of Liberman’s flute, and the national interest has been preserved. Now we should all get back to work,” she tweeted.
Earlier, before Bennett and Shaked’s announcement, Netanyahu attended a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, where he repeated his call to preserve the coalition, a spokesman for the prime minister said in a statement.
“At this sensitive security time, it would be irresponsible to topple the government,” Netanyahu said. “Whether our partners decide to topple the government or not, we will continue to take action to ensure the security of our state and of our people. We will do so sensibly, responsibly and with determination.”
Called to the committee last week following the much-maligned ceasefire deal reached with Hamas after a two-day rocket barrage from the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu was set to address committee members in a closed-door session but took the opportunity to make brief public comments first.
The political crisis began Wednesday with the resignation of Liberman over his criticism of the government’s handling of the violence emanating from Gaza. The withdrawal of Liberman’s five-seat Yisrael Beytenu faction reduced the governing coalition to the slimmest 61-59 seat majority.
Immediately after the resignation, Bennett demanded the defense portfolio in Liberman’s stead, warning that without it he would withdraw his own eight-seat faction and ensure the toppling of the coalition and new elections.
National elections are due to be held by November 2019.