Hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suffered a second ministerial resignation in eight days, a TV report said senior members of Israel’s governing coalition believe the government may soon collapse, triggering elections within the next six months. The Channel 10 report Friday night quoted unnamed political “party leaders” as saying that Netanyahu’s bid to expand his multi-party coalition by bringing in the hawkish Avigdor Liberman “is likely to turn into a move that will destroy the coalition.”
The TV report came hours after Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay, from the Kulanu party, resigned from the government, in large part because of the imminent appointment of Liberman as minister of defense. Gabbay warned that the increasingly “extremist” coalition was leading Israel along a path to destruction. Gabbay’s resignation, in turn, followed a week after defense minister Moshe Ya’alon resigned, furious that he was being ousted in favor of Liberman. Ya’alon also warned of dangerous extremism taking hold in the Israeli leadership.
Underlining the chaos now afflicting the Netanyahu coalition, which only took office after elections in March 2015, another coalition player, the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party, is vowing not to approve the inclusion of Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party when it comes up for a scheduled vote in the Knesset next week. Jewish Home’s leader, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, is demanding an overhaul in the way the key security cabinet is given critical information in times of war and conflict, and his party on Friday flatly rejected a Netanyahu proposal to set up a committee to deal with the issue. Relations between Netanyahu’s Likud and Bennett’s Jewish Home are now “in real crisis,” the Channel 10 report said.
In Israel’s routinely volatile political climate, the various crises could yet all be resolved in the coming days, but Netanyahu’s efforts to expand his coalition — which numbers just 61 seats in the 120-member Knesset — are plainly proving more complex than he could have anticipated. He signed a coalition deal with Liberman on Wednesday, but the strains in his ties with Jewish Home have intensified since then. And the resignation of Gabbay, a founding member of Kulanu, has thrown that party into a mini-crisis.
Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, the minister of finance, was reported by Channel 10 on Friday to now be making renewed efforts to persuade the center-left opposition leader Isaac Herzog to join the coalition, and thus to give the government a less hawkish hue. But Herzog, who had been negotiating a partnership with Netanyahu until the prime minister opted to bring in Liberman, has insisted repeatedly in recent days that he will not resume talks with the prime minister.
Herzog has claimed that he was prepared to risk his political career to partner with Netanyahu because there was a rare opportunity for regional progress toward peace. But, he said earlier in the week, Netanyahu “ran away” from that opportunity, and opted instead to turn to the hardline Liberman.
Netanyahu insisted on Wednesday that he hopes to take advantage of the possibilities for progress on the Palestinian and regional front, and Liberman said much the same.
Strikingly, an opinion poll published by Israel Radio on Friday showed that a new center-right grouping including the ousted Ya’alon, Kahlon’s Kulanu, and popular former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar, would become Israel’s biggest party if elections were held today.
Channel 10 said that Ya’alon, who resigned from the Knesset on Sunday but said he would return to politics after a time out, “has already begun preparing the organizational infrastructure” for a possible comeback.