Israel's Jewish Home party had planned to leave the coalition in protest against the ceasefire in Gaza, only to be beaten to its announcement by Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
The party had decided to pull out of the government on Tuesday evening, but Lieberman's shock resignation on Wednesday forced Jewish Home MKs to reconsider. "Following the developments, the Jewish Home decided to stay in the government in order to demand that faction head Naftali Bennett succeed Lieberman as defence minister," Arutz Sheva reported citing Israel's public broadcaster Kan.
Bennett conveyed his demands to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just hours after Lieberman's announcement, threatening to pull out of the coalition if they were not met. Jewish Home officials stated that: "It's either the Defence Ministry or we are out […] this is our ultimatum to stay in the government," a move which threatens to topple the coalition and spark early elections.
Yesterday Netanyahu met with Bennett to discuss these demands, indicating the gravity of the situation. Netanyahu also met with the heads of the ruling coalition factions to decide how to proceed, as key cabinet officials quickly splintered into camps in support of either Netanyahu or Bennett.
Key Likud MKs including Ze'ev Elkin – the Minister of Jerusalem Affairs – and Yehuda Glick criticised Bennett and Lieberman, while Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon expressed his dissatisfaction with Bennett's demand and called for elections to be held. Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel – a Jewish Home MK and ardent advocate of the Israeli right-wing – supported Bennett's demand, saying if Bennett were appointed defence minister those in favour of a forceful approach towards Gaza would be satisfied.
The political crisis quickly engulfing the Israeli government was sparked on Wednesday when then-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned his position and left the coalition in protest against the ceasefire imposed in Gaza earlier this week. Lieberman told a hastily-assembled press conference that: "From my perspective, what happened yesterday in terms of the […] is submission to terror. What we are in effect doing is buying short term quiet [in Gaza] and the price will be difficult for [Israel's] security in the long term."
Lieberman added: "It's not a secret that in the past few months there were disagreements between Netanyahu and myself. I thought that the deal to allow Qatari cash into Gaza was a mistake, and only after he made a written statement was I forced to accept his position."
The question of Israeli policy vis-à-vis Gaza lies at the heart of the crisis, after it emerged that Netanyahu had pushed for a ceasefire in the besieged enclave against the wishes of Lieberman and Bennett, both of whom have previously advocated for a hawkish escalation of violence in the Strip. This week saw the highest level of Israeli destruction in the Gaza Strip since the 2014 war, after a botched Israeli intelligence gathering operation led to the killing of seven Palestinians and the destruction of media organisations and infrastructure.