Netanyahu scrambles to stabilize coalition after Liberman resignation

The departure of Yisrael Beiteinu from the government leaves Netanyahu with a razor-thin one-seat majority in the Knesset.

By Benjamin Kerstein, The Algemeiner

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scrambling to shore up his governing coalition following the resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, the Hebrew daily Yediot Ahronot reported on Wednesday.

The Yisrael Beiteinu leader resigned on Wednesday in protest of Netanyahu’s “capitulation to terror” —  Liberman’s description of the Gaza ceasefire reached after a surge of violence earlier this week that included the firing of more than 400 rockets into southern Israel.

The departure of Yisrael Beiteinu from the government leaves Netanyahu with a razor-thin one-seat majority in the Knesset.

Further complicating the situation, Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party issued an ultimatum to the prime minister, saying it would also leave the coalition if Bennett was not chosen to replace Liberman as defense minister. A Jewish Home withdrawal from the government would erase Netanyahu’s Knesset majority and make early elections almost certain.

An anonymous source in Netanyahu’s Likud party told Yediot, “There is no need for elections in the midst of a sensitive security situation. The government can finish its term. In any case, at the moment the defense portfolio will become Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s responsibility.”

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Yariv Levin, a Likud minister, stated, “Our responsibility is to continue the existence of a stable right-wing government, therefore the resignation of the defense minister is misplaced.”

The government would remain in office, he added, “as long as the participants work together, and of course we will not allow the exploitation of the situation for blackmail or irresponsible leadership.”

The next Knesset elections are currently scheduled for November 2019.

Reactions to Liberman’s resignation poured in on Wednesdy from across the political spectrum. On the right, the Jewish Home party said, according to a Channel Two report, “Lieberman was a security failure. It’s good that he resigned. In the last two years he has caused Hamas to cease to be afraid.”

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni of the center-left Zionist Union said the “government of failure” should immediately go to elections. “Elections are required that will bring about an emergency coalition led by the Zionist Union,” she stated. “The news of the resignation of the defense minister proves what we have been saying for many years — none of the elements of the coalition or all of them together have a security solution.”

Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, said Liberman’s resignation signaled the end of the current government, adding that it showed Netanyahu had “no solution to Gaza.” He spoke as if the next election campaign was already underway, saying, “Today, the quest began for the return of security, responsibility and leadership to the State of Israel. Yesh Atid is ready. I am ready.”

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The religious Shas party’s leader Aryeh Deri sounded a different note, saying, “The resignation of my friend Avigdor Liberman from the role of defense minister saddens me. Liberman served faithfully, devotedly, and extremely professionally, and his resignation weakens the government.”

Avi Gabbay, head of the Zionist Union, said Liberman was a failure and connected this to Netanyahu, saying, “He is as responsible as the defense minister.”

Tamar Zandberg, chairwoman of the left-wing Meretz party, blasted Liberman in no uncertain terms, stating, “It’s a blessing that we have gotten rid of Liberman, the racist and corrupt minister who debased Israeli politics. All the government ministers must follow in his footsteps.” She called the current coalition the most “polarizing” and “racist” government in Israeli history.

Former Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak sounded a more moderate note, saying Liberman’s resignation showed “independence and consistency.” He blasted Netanyahu, however, stating, “The emperor has no clothes. … This is the beginning of the end.”