Occupied Jerusalem: The Israeli regime’s defence minister officially submitted his resignation on Thursday, leaving the government with the narrowest of parliamentary majorities and paving what looks like a clear path to early elections.
Avigdor Lieberman dispatched a once-sentence letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, informing him of his decision to step down. The move, which takes effect in 48 hours, leaves Netanyahu with the support of just 61 out of 120 lawmakers.
With other coalition partners also flexing their muscles and the opposition parties demanding an early election, the days of Netanyahu’s current government seem to be numbered.
Lieberman’s abrupt resignation came in protest to a cease-fire reached with Hamas that ended two days of intense Israeli attacks on Gaza. The hard-liner had demanded a far harsher Israeli response to the widest wave of Gaza rocket fire against Israel since a 50-day war in 2014, but was overruled by Netanyahu.
In his live TV announcement on Wednesday, Lieberman lashed out the government’s weakness and termed the cease-fire “surrender to terrorism.”
The move immediately set off furious political jockeying, with insiders predicting it marked the opening salvo of a new political campaign.
Parliamentary elections are schedule for a year from now but Israeli governments rarely serve out their full terms. The last time that happened was in 1988. Since then, elections have almost always been moved up because of a coalition crisis or a strategic move by the prime minister to maximize his chances of re-election.
Netanyahu’s fiercest coalition rival, Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the pro-colonist Jewish Home party, was the first to pounce, threatening to leave the coalition too if he wasn’t appointed defence minister in Lieberman’s place. That, however, appeared unlikely given the bad blood between the two and the overall shaky nature of such a slim coalition.
“It was very difficult yesterday evening to find anyone in the political establishment who would say that elections are far off. Any date between March and May 2019 appears logical,” wrote columnist Ben Caspit in the Maariv daily. “The Netanyahu government is stumbling toward its end.”
With such uncertainty, the major players are already positioning themselves.
“This government has failed to establish deterrence. This is not a right-wing government and there is no point to its existence,” Bennett’s party colleague, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, told Israel’s Army Radio. “Bennett could be a big help to the prime minister as defense minister.”
Netanyahu has been reportedly flirting with the idea of moving up elections himself, but the current timing is not ideal for him. He has come under heavy criticism for agreeing to the cease-fire, especially from within his own political base and in the towns in southern Israel that are typically strongholds of his ruling Likud Party.
A poll aired Wednesday on Israel’s top-rated TV newscast after Lieberman’s resignation showed 74 per cent of Israelis to be displeased with Netanyahu’s handling of the recent Gaza crisis.
Netanyahu still appeared to have little competition for the post of prime minister, though support for his Likud party dipped compared to previous polls. If elections were held today, Likud looked to win 29 seats, followed by the centrist Yesh Atid party at 18 and Labor at 11.