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Israeli coalition could collapse within days

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition could collapse within days unless he appoints Jewish Home Party leader Naftali Bennett as Defence Minister.

The coalition crisis began yesterday morning when Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned because of his opposition to Tuesday’s ceasefire agreement with Hamas. Although Netanyahu initially decided to take the defence job himself, Knesset members from the Jewish Home Party voted last night to leave the coalition unless Bennett is given the job. Netanyahu now has a dilemma: surrender the defence portfolio to his political adversary or be forcefully dragged into elections.

The Government has a wafer thin Parliamentary majority of 61-59, a scenario which Prime Minister Netanyahu has previously said is unworkable. If the eight Jewish Home Party MK’s left, the coalition would be too weak to continue.

Jewish Home Faction Chairwoman MK Shuli Mualem-Refaeli said in an interview that “Netanyahu understands as well that Naftali Bennett is the right person for the substantive change, which needs to advance the right-wing views of the national government”. At the same time, a Likud official remarked “there’s no obligation to go to an election at the time of security sensitivity”.

Opposition leaders welcomed Lieberman’s resignation and called for early elections. Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay said: “There is no security for the residents of the south, and therefore the Prime Minister must also resign. He is responsible for security just like the Defence Minister.” Opposition leader Tzipi Livni has also called for early elections, tweeting: “The government of failed security must go. No peace, no security — elections now.”

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said: “The resignation of the defence minister reinforces the fact that the prime minister has surrendered to terrorism at the expense of the residents of the south.” The Meretz faction announced that it was planning to introduce a bill to dissolve the Knesset. Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg said: “Good riddance to Lieberman, a racist and corrupt minister who deteriorated Israeli politics. The rest of the cabinet ministers need to follow his lead, to resign and to free us of this bad government that is ill with corruption, racism and loyalty laws.”