Israel: Wounded Netanyahu in desperate battle for political survival after poll blow

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LONDON GUARDIAN)

 

Israel: Wounded Netanyahu in desperate battle for political survival after poll blow

Israel’s president to meet PM and opposition leader Benny Gantz in bid to resolve election stalemate
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and President Reuven Rivlin
 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and President Reuven Rivlin. Photograph: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP/Getty Images

Israel’s president is set to begin two days of consultations with political parties after a deadlocked election last week plunged the country into uncertainty over who will lead the next government.

Near-final results from Tuesday’s poll showed the opposition chief, Benny Gantz, marginally ahead of the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, with his Blue and White party taking 33 seats out of parliament’s 120. The ruling Likud party has 31.

Critically, neither side appeared able to forge a majority government, even with support from allies in smaller parties.

On Sunday afternoon President Reuven Rivlin will meet both leaders in an attempt to break the stalemate or face the possibility of a potential third round of elections in less than a year. Rivlin holds a largely ceremonial post but is also responsible for choosing the candidate he believes has the best chance of forming a government. Usually, the decision is clear, and often goes to the leader of the largest party, but the muddied result has created an impasse.

Despite being Israel’s longest-serving leader and having a reputation for political sorcery, Netanyahu is fighting a tough battle. On Thursday he acknowledged his plan had failed. “During the elections, I called for the establishment of a rightwing government,” Netanyahu said in a video message. “But unfortunately the election results show that this is not possible.”

After leading the country for 10 consecutive years, Israeli media has questioned whether his era was over. His biographer, Anshel Pfeffer, wrote that, while he may still cling on, “the Netanyahu magic has been broken”.

Fearing defeat, the prime minister has called for his opponent to join him in a unity government, hinting that he might be willing to accept a power-sharing arrangement with Gantz. There is a precedent in Israel for political rivals to serve together after Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres rotated the role of prime minister in the mid-1980s. However, Gantz, a former military chief, swiftly rejected Netanyahu’s offer and said he should lead because his alliance won the most seats. “We will not be dictated to,” he warned.

Israel has held two elections in five months after Netanyahu failed to cobble together a coalition following a similar result in April. Rather than give the opposition a chance to do so, he instead pushed to dissolve the Knesset, triggering repeat elections and giving himself another opportunity.

The gamble has left him in an apparently worse position and the stakes are much higher. In two weeks’ time he will face pre-trial hearings for three corruption cases against him. A majority in the Knesset could give Netanyahu – who denies any wrongdoing – immunity from prosecution.

Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Israeli secular nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party
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 Avigdor Lieberman, whose party took eight seats, could emerge as kingmaker. Photograph: Jalaa Marey/AFP/Getty Images

At the centre of the impasse, and the man with the key to ending it, is Israel’s apparent kingmaker – the far-right ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman. The staunch secularist took eight seats, but his refusal to join a government with Jewish religious groups has added further blocks.

Politicians from an alliance of the country’s minority Arab population could also play a role, after they became the third-largest bloc in the Knesset. Ayman Odeh, the head of the group, has said that he may back Gantz, but even that would not give the opposition figure a majority.

If Sunday’s talks prove fruitless, Rivlin’s office said he might invite Netanyahu and Gantz back for more consultations. The president is obliged by law to choose a candidate by 2 October, who will then have up to six weeks to form a government. If that person fails, the president can task another, but the process could break down and force the holding of a third election.

Rivlin has said he will do everything in his power to avoid such a costly scenario that would paralyse Israeli politics right into 2020. Yet some say it looks increasingly likely.

“These are early days indeed to try to make sense of what government may emerge from the migraine-inducing complexity of Israel’s elections,” wrote David Horovitz, founding editor of the Times of Israel. “But the outcome everybody professes to want to avoid is already starting to loom in the distance.

“If Netanyahu sees it as his last hope, and Gantz thinks he’ll emerge from it stronger, we may yet have to go through this all again.”

Israel: Election lists close with rifts leaving Liberman as kingmaker

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Election lists close with rifts on left and right, leaving Liberman as kingmaker

Three major takeaways as 32 parties register with the Central Elections Committee for the September 17 national vote

Raoul Wootliff
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman in Tel Aviv, July 30, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flahs90)

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman in Tel Aviv, July 30, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flahs90)

With 47 days to go until the September 17 national vote, all 32 parties set to run in the election, and their electoral slates, have been registered with the Central Elections Committee.

Here are three takeaways from two fairly humdrum days at the committee, as the parties filed ahead of Thursday’s midnight deadline:

1. Divided Right

The most exciting drama leading up to the closing of registration was the protracted effort, which went down to the wire, to merge the extremist Otzma Yehudit party with the newly formed United Right union.

Pressure to reach an agreement continued right up until the deadline, with party leader Itamar Ben Gvir saying he had been asked to hold out a little while longer by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been pushing for the merger on the grounds that right-wing votes could be wasted if Otzma Yehudit, whose name means Jewish Power, failed to clear the 3.25% electoral threshold.

In the end, however, those efforts failed and United Right, led by popular former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, filed its own party list without Otzma Yehudit or Moshe Feiglin’s quasi-libertarian hard-right Zehut (or, indeed, the tiny anti-LGBT Noam party, which had temporarily agreed to run with Otzma Yehudit.) Likud has (generously) estimated that those three parties are worth roughly four to five percent of the vote (180,000-216,000 votes).

The decision to forgo a merger, which United Right has said was due to Ben Gvir refusing to take any spot on the joint slate below eighth place, may well end up being good for the right-wing union and bad for Netanyahu, reducing his chances of gaining the support of at least 61 of the 120 eventual Knesset members.

Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben Gvir speaks to reporters at the Knesset before his far-right party submits its electoral slate to the Central Elections Committee on August 1, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Instead of gathering the fringes of Israel’s right-wing, the new union has brought together the mainstream factions on the right — Shaked’s New Right and the religious-Zionist union, United Right Wing Parties — all but guaranteeing their own political survival, but not necessarily Netanyahu’s.

The union headed by Shaked could end up being a direct threat to his own support: it may boost the right-wing bloc somewhat, but it is just as likely to drain support from the Likud in favor of the new United Right, with many Likud voters likely amenable to Shaked and the type of party she is forming.

At the same time, tens or hundreds of thousands of right-wing votes may now be lost in the election if they go to Ben Gvir or Feiglin’s factions, and those parties fail to clear the threshold and enter the Knesset.

2. Democratic Camp(s)

At the other end of the political spectrum, Thursday also saw hopes dashed for a grand left-wing union made up of the Democratic Camp — itself a merger between Meretz, former prime minister Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party and ex-Labor MK Stav Shaffir — and the recently announced Labor-Gesher partnership.

Despite significant internal criticism over the decision, newly elected Labor leader Amir Peretz opted to run independently of the newly formed Democratic Camp, and instead position Labor as a left-leaning socio-economic party less focused on diplomatic and peace issues.

There has been lingering anger within Labor over Peretz’s decision to merge the faction with former lawmaker Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher party, which is further to the right on the political spectrum and failed to pick up enough votes to enter the Knesset in April’s elections. Others within Labor, notably the party’s No. 2 MK, Itzik Shmuli, meanwhile, had pushed Peretz to cooperate with the Democratic Camp on a joint slate in an effort to win as many seats as possible for the left.

MK Amir Peretz, leader of the Labor party, right, and Orly Levy, head of the Gesher party, seen at an opening event for the new election headquarters in Tel Aviv, on July 24, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As Peretz and Levy-Abekasis presented their slate on Thursday, Shmuli stood by their side, telling press afterwards that Labor was “the true camp for Israeli democrats.” A few hours earlier, Shaffir, Shmuli’s one-time partner when leading the 2011 social protests, had said that her party would be the one to “ensure the future of Israeli democracy.”

Labor has seen its fortunes tumble in recent years, hit by a rightward shift among Israeli voters, turmoil within the party, and the emergence of various new political players that have eroded its base. In April’s election, it dropped from the 24 Knesset seats it received as part of the Zionist Union in 2015 to just six. In total, the party gained only 4.43 percent of the national vote.

Peretz’s decision to stay out of the Democratic Camp will determine whether Labor, still plagued by internal divisions, will be able to regain its past glory. More likely, with the party currently hovering at around six seats, not far from the electoral threshold (as opposed to Democratic Camp’s nine to twelve seats), it may mean that the election campaign could become a fight for Labor’s very survival.

3. Liberman’s gain

While the right and left kept each other on their toes until the final hours before the Thursday night deadline, the only major party to casually file its slate on Wednesday, avoiding speculation and spin, was Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu.

Being the first to finalize its electoral list, and doing so without the need for other partners, symbolized the image of Yisrael Beytenu as a sturdy, trustworthy and even centrist party that Liberman has cultivated over the past few weeks. It also underlines his confidence given the gains his party has seen in polling, jumping from the five seats it received in April’s election to 11 in a survey released on Thursday night.

According to that Channel 13 poll, the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties together would win 54 seats without Liberman, while the center-left and Arab factions would have 46, meaning neither side could form a coalition without Yisrael Beytenu. That means that the former defense and foreign minister would again hold the balance of power and that Netanyahu will likely be unable to form a coalition without him.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman at a campaign event for his party in Tel Aviv on July 30, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Such a turn of events would mark the second time this year that Liberman has been in the kingmaker position. In May, weeks after the previous elections, Netanyahu failed to form a new coalition when Liberman refused to join his government.

Perhaps more significantly for Liberman, Thursday’s poll showed that half of Israeli voters want to see a unity government between the Likud and Blue and White parties that does not include ultra-Orthodox factions. Yisrael Beytenu has vowed, if it holds the balance of power, to indeed force a coalition of Likud and Blue and White that does not include religious parties.

Thus, amid the splits on both right and the left, Liberman emerges from the quagmire precisely where he wants to be — as the man potentially holding the keys to a very different union: a unity government.

Israel: 32 Parties register for September elections, down from 47

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

32 parties register electoral slates for September vote, down from 47 last time

Polls suggest only nine parties may enter Knesset; a party headed by cult leader’s four wives submits slate; one aiming to advocate release of Rabin’s assassin Yigal Amir does not

Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party, speaks outside the Central Elections Committee in Jerusalem, August 1, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party, speaks outside the Central Elections Committee in Jerusalem, August 1, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

With 47 days to go until the September 17 national vote, all 32 parties set to run in the election, and their electoral slates, have been registered with the Central Elections Committee.

The committee’s doors opened Wednesday for the parties jostling for the Knesset’s 120 seats and closed at midnight Thursday.

The total of 32 factions is down from the last election cycle, when a record 47 parties registered for the April 9 vote. The smaller number is partially a result of mergers between parties after several weeks of horse-trading.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads the list for his Likud party, followed by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, whose Kulanu party merged with Likud in May, was placed 5th. Gideon Sa’ar, Miri Regev, Yariv Levin, Yoav Gallant and Nir Barkat round out the top 10 for Likud.

The electoral ticket submitted by Blue and White was almost identical to the one that competed in April’s elections, with changes made only to the order of candidates below number 30 on the slate. Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi occupy the top four slots.

Lapid, who merged his Yesh Atid party with Gantz’s Israel Resilience to form Blue and White ahead of the previous elections in April, is set to take over as prime minister from Gantz during the term as part of a rotation deal, if Blue and White forms the next government.

Likud and Blue and White are expected to dominate the vote, with polls predicting around 30 seats for each, roughly the same as in April.

The newly-formed United Right, an amalgamation of the New Right and the Union of Right-Wing Parties, is headed by former justice minister and New Right leader Ayelet Shaked, followed by URWP’s Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich, with former New Right chair Naftali Bennett placed at four. Latest polls suggest it may be headed for about 11 seats.

New Right chairwoman Ayelet Shaked speaks to reporters in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Ayman Odeh, Mtanes Shihadeh, Ahmad Tibi and Mansour Abbas lead the newly reunited Joint (Arab) List, which is also polling at around 11.

On the center-left of the spectrum, and polling at around six seats, Labor-Gesher is headed by Labor chief Amir Peretz, followed by Gesher’s Orly Levy-Abekasis, and Itzik Shmuli and Merav Michaeli of Labor.

Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz leads the Democratic Camp’s list, followed by ex-Labor MK Stav Shaffir, Israel Democratic Party’s Yair Golan and Meretz’s Tamar Zandberg. Former PM Ehud Barak was placed 10th on the list. This alliance is seen heading for about nine seats.

Avigdor Liberman, who helped precipitate the upcoming election by refusing to join a Netanyahu-led coalition, heads his Yisrael Beytenu party, which could be the kingmaker between the blocs, polling at around 10-11 seats.

The religious Mizrahi Shas party will once again run under the helm of party leader Aryeh Deri, while its Ashkenazi UTJ counterpart will once again be headed by Yaakov Litzman. The two ultra-Orthodox parties are seen heading for 13 seats between them.

Most polls show no other parties beyond these nine with a realistic chance of garnering enough support to enter the Knesset. That includes the far-right Otzma Yehudit and Moshe Feiglin’s quasi-libertarian hard-right Zehut.

The Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party faced immense pressure to join forces with United Right, but in the end filed to run on its own slate. The party’s list of candidates is headed by Itamar Ben Gvir, followed by former Kahane spokesman and current Hebron community leader Baruch Marzel.

Next on the slate is activist Adva Biton, whose daughter Adele was killed as a result of a 2013 West Bank terror attack, Otzma Yehudit director-general Yitzhak Wasserlauf, and Benzi Gopstein, who heads the Lehava anti-miscegenation group.

Negotiations regarding the submissions continued until the last minute, notably the protracted effort to merge the extremist Otzma Yehudit party with the newly-formed United Right union.

Pressure to reach an agreement continued right up until the deadline, with party leader Ben Gvir saying he had been asked to hold out a little while longer by Netanyahu, who has been pushing for the merger on the grounds that right-wing votes could be wasted if Otzma Yehudit, whose name means Jewish Power, failed to clear the 3.25% electoral threshold.

Thursday also saw hopes dashed for a grand left-wing union made up of the Democratic Camp — itself a merger between Meretz, Barak’s Israel Democratic Party and Shaffir — and the recently announced Labor-Gesher partnership.

Gesher party chair Orly Levy-Abekasis (L) and Labor head Amir Peretz announce their joint run in the September election, in Tel Aviv, July 18, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Despite significant internal criticism over the decision, newly-elected Labor leader Peretz opted to run independently of the Democratic Camp, and instead position Labor as a left-leaning socio-economic party less focused on diplomatic and peace issues.

Below are all parties set to run in the election, in the order in which they registered:

1. The Da’am: Green Economy – One State
2. Social Leadership
3. Economic Power
4. Yisrael Beytenu
5. Zechuyoteinu Bekoleinu (“Our Rights Are in our Vote/Voice”)
6. Zehut
7. Uncorrupted Red White
8. Pirate Party
9. Mitkademet
10. The Gush Hatanachi (Bible Bloc)
11. Shas
12. Justice, headed by Avi Yalou
13. Kama
14. Kavod HaAdam
15. United Torah Judaism
16. Respect and Equality
17. Democracy Party
18. Noam
19. Blue and White
20. Israel Brothers for Social Justice
21. Seder Hadash
22. Likud
23. Popular Unity
24. Democratic Camp
25. Tzomet
26. Ichud Bnei HaBrit
27. Joint List
28. Otzma Yehudit
29. Secular Right
30. Tzafon
31. United Right
32. Labor-Gesher

The Kama (Advancing Individual Rights) party is headed by four wives of a polygamous cult leader, Daniel Ambash, who was convicted of sadistic abuse of his family members six years ago. Most of the wives have never renounced Ambash, a Bratslav ultra-Orthodox Jew. They still live together, view themselves as his wives and revere him. Aderet Ambash, chair of the new pro-polygamy party, said that the new faction aims to fight to keep the government from intervening in Israelis’ private lives.

A political party aiming to free Yigal Amir, the man who assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at a peace rally nearly 24 years ago, did not register. It wasn’t immediately clear why the party, Nura Deliba, did not submit its list.

Orly Adas, the director of the Central Elections Committee, had earlier told Channel 13 there was no legal precedent to ban the party from registering to run, but said the Knesset panel would try to prevent it.

The effort to form the party, whose name means “fire of the heart in Aramaic,” was condemned by Labor’s Peretz, who said the party celebrating the assassination of the Labor prime minister “crossed a red line.”

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Brazil’s President Tells U.N. That Brazil Now Follows The Bible

( BRAZIL 24/7 )

 

Israel PM vows to annex West Bank settlements if re-elected

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Israel PM vows to annex West Bank settlements if re-elected

Image caption Israel has established more than 100 Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if he is re-elected.

Israelis go to the polls on Tuesday and Mr Netanyahu is competing for votes with right-wing parties who support annexing part of the West Bank.

The settlements are illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Last month the US recognised the occupied Golan Heights, seized from Syria in 1967, as Israeli territory.

Israel has settled about 400,000 Jews in West Bank settlements, with another 200,000 living in East Jerusalem. There are about 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank.

Palestinians want to establish a state in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

What happens to the settlements is one of the most contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinians – Palestinians say the presence of settlements make a future independent state impossible.

Israel says the Palestinians are using the issue of settlements as a pretext to avoid direct peace talks. It says settlements are not a genuine obstacle to peace and are negotiable.

What exactly did Netanyahu say?

He was asked during an interview on Israeli TV why he had not extended Israeli sovereignty to large settlements in the West Bank.

“You are asking whether we are moving on to the next stage – the answer is yes, we will move to the next stage,” he said.

“I am going to extend [Israeli] sovereignty and I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlements.”

A spokesman for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas told Reuters: “Any measures and any announcements will not change the facts. Settlements are illegal and they will be removed.”

Presentational grey line

Potentially explosive comments

By Sebastian Usher, BBC Arab affairs editor

These comments by Benjamin Netanyahu are potentially explosive over an issue that has helped stall peace efforts for years.

They will resonate with several parties with which he’ll try to form a coalition government if he wins the biggest share of votes.

But the very idea of annexation will rouse new Palestinian fury, as well as international condemnation.

Mr Netanyahu may have been emboldened by the Trump administration, which just last month recognised Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Presentational grey line

What is the political background?

Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party is in a tight race with the new centre-right Blue and White alliance.

However other parties, some of which support annexation, could end up being kingmakers when they try to form a governing coalition.

In Mr Netanyahu’s own Likud party, 28 out of the 29 lawmakers running for re-election are on record as supporting this approach. Until now the prime minister was the only exception.

What is the situation of peace negotiations?

Mr Trump’s administration is preparing to unveil a long-awaited Middle East peace plan, which US officials say will be fair.

However the Trump administration has carried out a series of actions that have inflamed Palestinian opinion and generally pleased Israel.

In 2017 Mr Trump announced that the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, overturning decades of official US policy.

In response Mr Abbas cut off relations with the US, saying the US could no longer be a peace broker.

Last year the US stopped contributing to the UN Relief and Works Agency(Unrwa), which has been looking after Palestinian refugees since 1949.

In March President Trump officially recognised Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.

On Saturday, speaking at a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, he warned a Democratic victory in 2020 could “leave Israel out there”, in an effort to make the case to Jewish voters to support his re-election.

Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been at a standstill since 2014, when a US-brokered attempt to reach a deal collapsed.

Netanyahu Says No Need For Elections Now As He Tries To Save His Coalition

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Netanyahu says ‘no need for elections’ now, in apparent bid to save coalition

Citing ‘period of sensitive security,’ PM slams junior partners in government for threatening to bring it down

In what seemed like a last-ditch effort to save his government from breaking apart, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday morning that there was “no need” to go to national elections, suggesting it would be dangerous to do so “during this period of sensitive security.”

“In the past few days, I have spoken with all the heads of the coalition, and I will meet with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon this evening in a last attempt to prevent the government falling,” the prime minister said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

The meeting between Netanyahu and Kahlon is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Party leaders Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu), both significant members of Netanyahu’s Likud-led coalition, have agreed to push for national elections to be held on March 26, 2019, Hadashot TV news reported Saturday night.

The report came as both party leaders voiced their clear support on Saturday for a national vote well ahead of November 2019, when the current government’s term is set to end. The Jewish Home party has threatened to bolt the coalition if Bennett is not be given the defense portfolio in the wake of Avigdor Liberman’s resignation from the post, a move reportedly opposed by Kahlon.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (r) and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, at a press conference regarding the reduction in vacation days in the education system at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on January 8, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said on Sunday that Netanyahu had agreed to give Bennett the defense ministry, but that the Jewish Home chair was determined to go to elections.

At the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu accused Bennett and Kahlon of ushering in left-wing administrations and therefore endangering Israel amid threats to the country’s security.

“At this time of sensitive security, there is no need for elections, nor would it be right,” he said. “We all remember what happened when elements in right-wing governments led their downfall, as in 1992 and as in 1999, which brought about the Oslo disaster and the catastrophe of the [second] intifada.”

Bennett threatened last week to pull his party out of the coalition and force new elections if he is not appointed defense minister instead of Liberman, who, in announcing his resignation on Wednesday, condemned Israel’s ceasefire with Hamas after a deadly exchange in the south.

Slamming the government for what she described as a “leftward slide,” Jewish Home’s number two, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, said on Sunday that “the only justification for the continued existence of the government until November 2019 is if Bennett will be allowed to revolutionize security and restore to Israel the deterrence lost under Liberman.”

Despite Netanyahu’s apparent criticism of his junior coalition partners, neither Bennett nor Kahlon have said definitively that elections are inevitable.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Minister of Education Naftali Bennett attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016. (Abir Sultan, Pool via AP)

“There is still a possibility that the government would be able to continue. However, the slim majority of 61 would make that highly unlikely, given some of the important legislation that remains on the docket for the remainder of the Knesset,” sources close to Bennett told The Times of Israel on Sunday.

Top surrogates of the prime minister nonetheless continued to rail against Bennett, accusing him of forcing the early collapse of a right-wing coalition and threatening to return the left to power.

“We have a nationalist government that could continue for another year,” coalition chairman MK David Amsalem (Likud) said in an interview with Israel Radio Sunday morning.

“Let there be no doubt, we’re going to elections because of Naftali Bennett. In my view the talks [to prevent the government’s collapse] are borderline hopeless. Naftali is pitting us all against each other, giving us grades. It’s unprecedented chutzpah,” he charged.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud), meanwhile, said that he opposed giving the Defense Ministry to Bennett, saying that a member of his own party should be appointed instead.

“There are a number of suitable candidates in the Likud,” he told the Ynet news site. “At the moment of truth, a defense minister from a small party will prefer considerations of political survival over considerations of the state.”

Asked if Bennett was the best person for the job, Katz said the question reminded him of when John Lennon was asked if Ringo Starr was the best drummer in the world and replied that Ringo was not even the best drummer in the Beatles.

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Israel heads toward elections as Jewish Home says it will leave coalition

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israel heads toward elections as Jewish Home says it will leave coalition

Netanyahu says he will still try to ‘preserve right-wing government,’ but Jewish Home says elections now inevitable after PM rejects Bennett’s demand he be made defense minister

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, seen with Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, seen with Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/Pool)

The Jewish Home will leave the coalition, bringing down the government and forcing new elections, senior sources in the Orthodox-nationalist party told The Times of Israel Friday.

The Jewish Home party’s decision came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett’s demand to be made defense minister in a Friday afternoon meeting between the two.

The sources said a date for elections had not been agreed upon. Elections are formally set for November 2019, but it is now expected they will be held between March and May, with Netanyahu pushing for a later date and other parties seeking an earlier one.

Netanyahu said in a statement, however, that he would continue to try to preserve the right-wing coalition. He also made a series of telephone calls to coalition chiefs telling them there was no reason to dismantle the coalition at this stage.

Netanyahu “stressed the importance of making every effort to preserve the right-wing government and not to repeat the historical mistake of 1992 when the right-wing government was overthrown, the left came into power and brought the Oslo disaster to the State of Israel,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu also told Bennett that “the rumors that a decision to go to elections had been made were incorrect,” the statement said.

According to a Jewish Home source, however, “It became clear that in light of the resolute position of Kulanu Chairman, Minister Kahlon [who has called for early elections], there was a need to go to elections as soon as possible with no possibility of continuing the current government.”

“On Sunday, the date of the elections will be coordinated between the heads of the coalition parties.”

Bennett said Thursday he had asked Netanyahu for the portfolio after Avigdor Liberman resigned the post on Wednesday. The party said this was an “ultimatum” for it to stay in the government.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announces his resignation from his office following the ceasefire with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, during a press conference in the Knesset on November 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

By pulling his Yisrael Beytenu party out of the coalition, Liberman left the government with a narrow majority, with just 61 out of the 120 Knesset seats. The religious nationalist Jewish Home party then quickly declared it would topple the government if its leader Bennett is not given the defense portfolio.

With no Jewish Home, the coalition would go down from 61 seats to just 53. The government must have the backing of at least half of the 120 seat Knesset to survive no-confidence motions.

While in theory Netanyahu could bring another party into the coalition instead of Jewish Home, all opposition parties have declared their intention to run against him and the possibility of them joining is highly unlikely.

Bennett has long criticized the Netanyahu government’s reluctance to respond more forcefully to Gaza rocket attacks, and has advocated ground incursions into the Gaza Strip. Liberman, quitting the government, said he was doing so to protest Israel’s acceptance of an informal truce Tuesday that put a halt to the latest Hamas-Israel escalation in which Hamas fired over 400 rockets into Israel.

Netanyahu said in his statement after the meeting that he had told Bennett of his intention to keep the defense portfolio “in the light of the critical challenges currently facing the State of Israel.”

The prime minister appeared to present the possibility of keeping his government together, saying in his statement that he would meet with coalition leaders early next week and hoped they would “act responsibly and not to make a historic mistake in overthrowing a right-wing government.”

He is reportedly set to meet separately with Kulanu’s Kahlon on Sunday.

But the Jewish Home sources said it was too late and that the rejection of the party’s demand to be given the defense portfolio meant elections were inevitable.

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