Israel's Jewish Home party has threatened to pull out of the ruling coalition if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not appoint its leader, Naftali Bennett, as defence minister following the shock resignation of Avigdor Lieberman.
Bennett – who is also education minister – threatened to withdraw his party from the ruling coalition if he is not given the position of defence minister. If Netanyahu refuses his demands, this would leave the coalition short of a majority, likely triggering early elections.
Speaking to the Times of Israel (ToI), Jewish Home officials stated that: "It's either the Defence Ministry or we are out […] this is our ultimatum to stay in the government".
Jewish Home's ultimatum is likely a response to claims from sources inside the ruling-Likud party who stated that Netanyahu plans to take on the role of defence minister himself. This would be in addition to the Foreign and Health Ministries that he already heads, a move which would allow the coalition to limp towards elections in November 2019 – the latest date they can be held.
Other key figures from inside the Israeli establishment have also begun vying for the position, including Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee chairman Avi Dichter, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Jewish Home's demand came hot on the heels of the shock resignation of Avigdor Lieberman as defence minister earlier today,after he cited disagreements with Netanyahu over the imposition of a ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza. Speaking at a hastily-organised press conference following an emergency meeting with his Yisrael Beitenu party, Lieberman said that:
From my perspective, what happened yesterday in terms of the ceasefire, in combination with the arrangements with Hamas, is submission to terror. What we are in effect doing is buying sshort-termquiet [in Gaza] and the price will be difficult for [Israel's] security in the long term.
"It's not a secret that in the past few months there were disagreements between Netanyahu and myself," Lieberman added, claiming that despite these differences he had "tried to remain a loyal member of the government as far as possible".
His latest disagreement with Netanyahu over whether to impose a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas proved to be the final straw. After an Israeli intelligence-gathering operation was foiled on Sunday night, destruction in the besieged Gaza Strip reached levels not seen since the 2014 war. Seven Palestinians were killed during the escalation in violence, with TV stations and masses of infrastructure devastated. Thus far the ceasefire seems to be holding.
Bennett and Lieberman have long been engaged in a fierce feud over Israel's Gaza policy. Bennett has regularly advocated for a shoot-to-kill policy vis-à-vis the Strip, saying in October he would impose the policy whether against unarmed protesters or children. Earlier in October, Bennett had criticised Lieberman's approach as defence minister, accusing him of weakness for engaging in ceasefire talks. Bennett explained:
The current situation is a direct result of Lieberman's policy toward Gaza. Under the guise of 'pragmatism' and 'responsibility', Lieberman has left the security of the southern residents to the considerations of Hamas. The time has come to tell the truth. The Lieberman-Hamas agreements have crashed.
For his part, Lieberman has advocated an equally hawkish policy towards the besieged enclave, claiming in October that "there is no way to reach a truce agreement with Hamas without inflicting a severe blow to the Gaza Strip". He had previously told a meeting of Israeli commanders and Israeli soldiers in charge of the Gaza division that: "We are not willing to accept the level of violence we see one week after another… a serious blow to Hamas could bring us at least five more years of quiet."