Israel: Embattled Netanyahu warns of 'irresponsible' snap vote

Analysts say an upcoming election would bring about little change in the status quo of Israeli politics and discourse.

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    Netanyahu said there was 'no need' for national elections [Corinna Kern/Reuters]
    Netanyahu said there was 'no need' for national elections [Corinna Kern/Reuters]

    Jerusalem - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged his coalition partners not to bring down the government, saying holding snap elections now would be "irresponsible".

    Netanyahu made the remarks in a televised statement on Sunday, after meeting Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, a key coalition partner.

    The meeting was seen as a last attempt to prevent the collapse of the coalition - which currently has a one-seat majority in parliament - but ended with no conclusion.

    Netanyahu's government was thrown into crisis earlier this week when hardline Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned over a ceasefire agreement with Hamas, the group administering the besieged Gaza Strip.

    Naming himself as defence chief, Netanyahu said in his televised address that "there is no place for politics or personal considerations" when it comes to Israel's security.

    Following Lieberman's resignation, the right-wing Jewish Home party had said that it would also leave the coalition unless its party leader, Education Minister Naftali Bennet, took on the post of defence minister - a move reportedly supported by Kahlon, the leader of Kulanu party.

    Lieberman quits

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    A coalition collapse would move national elections to the spring of 2019, well ahead of its original date in November next year. 

    This prospect came closer on Wednesday when Lieberman announced that his Yisrael Beiteinu party would leave the ruling coalition due to Netanyahu's "surrender to terrorism", referring to the ceasefire in Gaza agreed between Israel and Hamas-led factions the previous day.

    Lieberman called the Egyptian-mediated truce "a capitulation to terror" and demanded harsher retaliation.

    The ceasefire ended a major flare-up of violence, which saw Israeli forces launching dozens of aerial attacks across the Strip and Palestinian factions firing more than 400 rockets at Israel in retaliation for a botched undercover Israeli operation that killed seven Palestinians and one Israeli soldier. Overall, at least 14 Palestinians were killed over two days of violence.

    "Despite the difference in opinion, I tried to stay a faithful member of the government for as long as possible … but it has failed," Lieberman said.

    But the former defence minister had also attacked Netanyahu even before the ceasefire deal, angry at the prime minister's decision to allow Qatari cash and fuel supplies into Gaza and to shelve the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank.

    On Sunday evening, the Jewish Home party said Netanyahu's announcement "does not change anything" regarding its demand that Bennett is appointed as defence chief.

    "This is a government that is nominally right-wing but acts left-wing," the party said in a statement, as reported by the Times of Israel. 

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    "The government is a government with leftist policies, a collapsed deterrence against Hamas, the failure to evacuate Khan al-Ahmar, a weak policy toward terrorists and their families after terror attacks."

    Israeli media reported that Bennett, along with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, is planning to resign on Monday.

    For his part, Netanyahu said on Sunday there was "no need" for national elections to be held during a "period of sensitive security", warning that snap polls could result in a left-wing administration taking control.

    "We know what happens when elements in a right-wing government led to the government being toppled, like in 1992 and in 1999, which brought us the disaster of Oslo and the disaster of the [second] Intifada," Netanyahu said, mentioning the elections in which the Labour Party came to power.

    'More to the right'

    However, several commentators and political analysts noted that an upcoming election would bring about little change in the status quo of Israeli politics and discourse.

    They pointed to "centrist" leaders Yair Lapid and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, as well as Labour Party members, who all criticised Netanyahu's "capitulation" to Hamas - just like Lieberman and Bennett. 

    "In all likelihood, the next government is going to be very similar to this one, with a renewed mandate, probably a more right-wing mandate, but the parties that will be part of the next coalition will probably be exactly the same as we see now," Haggai Matar, executive Director and journalist of the local +972 Magazine, told Al Jazeera.

    He added that Israel currently has the most right-wing, nationalist government it has ever had, yet it's close to falling because "it's not right-wing enough".

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    With the possibility that Netanyahu may be losing support against hawkish political adversaries, Matar argued the prime minister may feel pressured to launch a military operation to appease voters.

    On the day Lieberman announced his resignation, Matar noted in an article that Israelis would be headed to the polls with one question in mind: "how much force should we use against Palestinians?"

    "The answers most political parties will offer will range from 'a lot' to 'a lot more'", he wrote.

    Peace deal stalled?

    Israeli journalist Meron Rapoport told Al Jazeera that Netanyahu's image has weakened following an ongoing corruption investigation and the ceasefire in Gaza - but the outcome of a snap election still would not diverge from the status quo.

    "Netanyahu is weaker than what people thought maybe a month or two months ago," Rapaport said, pointing to the poor election showing of Netanyahu's Likud party two weeks ago.

    Rapoport said there may be a chance of a centrist government, but "even they won't be going into negotiations with Palestinians".

    The looming elections may stall the presentation of the upcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, which US President Donald Trump said in September he planned to unveil by January.

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    The details of the proposal are yet to be revealed, but Trump said in September at the UN General Assembly that he would prefer "two states" as a solution, which Netanyahu has refused to back, insisting that Palestinian self-governance must include Israeli security control.

    "I think [the peace deal] will not be comfortable for Netanyahu," Rapoport said.

    "Of course it will not be comfortable for Palestinians, but they are used to it. But I think it will be something that's hard to swallow.

    "But there are some new trends in Israel… There is a need for a new leadership; it was very evident in the local elections so I personally wouldn't be totally surprised if we have a prime minister who is not Benjamin Netanyahu."

    Looking ahead, Matar said a new government would face "the ongoing pressure to go more and more to the right and use more and more violence.

    "Currently there's not enough checks and balances [internationally nor nationally] or opposition from the left that is actually offering an alternative that would limit how far Netanyahu can go with this." 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News