Friday 18 October 2019

Israel PM looks to rally support after defence minister quits

Benjamin Netanyahu was meeting coalition partners in a crisis prompted by a decision to accept a ceasefire in Gaza.

Israel’s departing defence minister Avigdor Lieberman (Ariel Schalit/AP)
Israel’s departing defence minister Avigdor Lieberman (Ariel Schalit/AP)

By Aron Heller, Associated Press

Israel’s defence minister has officially submitted his resignation, leaving the government with the narrowest of parliamentary majorities and paving what looks like a clear path to early elections.

Avigdor Lieberman dispatched a one-sentence letter to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, informing him of his decision to step down.

The move, which takes effect in 48 hours, leaves Mr Netanyahu with the support of just 61 out of 120 politicians.

With other coalition partners also flexing their muscles and the opposition parties demanding an early election, the days of Mr Netanyahu’s current government seem to be numbered.

Israeli protesters hold flags during a demonstration against the ceasefire (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

Mr Netanyahu was meeting with coalition partners on Thursday.

Two of them, Moshe Kahlon of the centrist Kulanu Party and Arye Deri of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, both urged him to call early elections.

Mr Kahlon told the prime minister that holding elections would be the “right thing to do” in the current environment, and that a new, strong and stable government should be formed, his office said.

Mr Lieberman’s abrupt resignation came in protest to a ceasefire reached with Gaza militants that ended two days of intense fighting.

Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (David Mirzoeff/AP)

The hardliner 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 Mr Netanyahu.

In his live TV announcement on Wednesday, Mr Lieberman lashed out at the government’s weakness and termed the ceasefire “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 scheduled for a year from now but Israeli governments rarely serve out their full terms.

The last time that happened was in 1988.

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