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Israel's Netanyahu staves off cabinet rebellion, averts early elections

Two key Israeli ministers announced Monday that they would remain in the country's coalition government and ...

Posted: Nov 19, 2018 1:00 PM
Updated: Nov 19, 2018 1:00 PM

Two key Israeli ministers announced Monday that they would remain in the country's coalition government and support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, temporarily delaying the prospect of early elections.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, both from the right-wing Jewish Home party, told a news conference they would support Netanyahu, but demanded the coalition carries out a more right-wing policy.

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"If finally the government will bring us in a new path, to work as a real right wing government, it's worth trying," said Bennett.

Bennett called for a harsher policy against Hamas in Gaza, the destruction of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank, and a tougher policy against terrorists and their families, among other policies.

"When Israel wants to win, we will return to winning," Bennett said.

Withdrawing an earlier threat to quit the government, Bennett said he was taking all of his political demands off the table, saying of Netanyahu, "We will stand behind you and help you in this huge task of Israel returning to winning."

Bennett had demanded the defense ministry following the resignation of Avigdor Liberman last week. Bennett had threatened to withdraw the coalition, forcing its collapse, if he were not given the position. On Sunday night, Netanyahu announced he would hold the defense ministry for himself, forcing Bennett to withdraw or give up on his demand.

Acknowledging political defeat, Bennett said, "It's better that Netanyahu beats me in a political fight than that [Hamas leader Ismail] Haniyeh beats the State of Israel."

On Monday morning, Netanyahu called it "irresponsible" to topple the government at this "sensitive security time." Attending the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for the first time as Defense Minister, 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."

Last week, Netanyahu's right-wing coalition faced its most serious challenge since coming to power nearly four years ago after a key minister resigned and others called for a new government.

The crisis was sparked Wednesday by the resignation of Liberman, who opposed a ceasefire with Gaza militants that was struck on November 13, bringing an end to the most severe round of fighting between the two sides since the 2014 war.

The resignation of Liberman, the hardline leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, left the government with 61 seats -- a majority of only one seat -- in the 120-seat Knesset.

Controversial ceasefire struck

The crisis began after a barrage of some 400 rockets was launched from Gaza toward Israel on November 12, hours after a botched Israeli operation in Gaza left a Hamas commander and an Israeli soldier dead. The Israeli military struck more than 100 targets inside Gaza.

A renewed ceasefire was brokered by the Egyptians and the United Nations to end the hostilities. Liberman denounced the ceasefire as a "capitulation to terror."

However, Netanyahu once again defended the ceasefire on Sunday, saying it was done in consultation with Israel's security establishment, suggesting there might be future military action.

"I know what to do, when to do it, and we will do it," said Netanyahu. "I hope that all of the partners will show responsibility and will not topple the government."

Netanyahu has faced coalition crises in the past but none as serious as the one currently unfolding. He has repeatedly promised to see out the government's term to November 2019, but that pledge seems increasingly in doubt.

If the coalition parties agree by the end of the month to call early elections, they are required by law to hold the vote within three to five months, putting the earliest possible election window in late February or early March.

The political turbulence comes as Netanyahu faces criminal investigations that have hit him and his inner circle. Israeli police say they have enough evidence to indict Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in two separate investigations.

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