Israel avoids early elections as coalition is kept intact

Benjamin Netanyahu replies to calls for an early election in Israel

Israel avoids early elections as coalition is kept intact

Israel's prime minister says it would be "irresponsible" to dissolve the government and call early elections.

His right-wing coalition partners had pushed hard for a new operation in Gaza to stop border protests and incendiary devices crossing into Israeli territory, with the defence minister resigning and painting Mr Netanyahu as weak on security.

The Israeli government looked to be on the brink of collapse Monday morning after Mr Netanyahu refused demands from the Jewish Home party to give them control of the defence ministry.

Everyone was certain that Bennett and his #2, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, would be following Liberman in abandoning Netanyahu and putting his coalition in the minority.

"The debate is no longer about who will be the defense minister in the Netanyahu government, but rather who will replace him, and the reins of national security must be in our hands", Livni stressed. Netanyahu is trying to convince them to stay.

With a shaky coalition and facing several investigations, the challenges facing Netanyahu, who currently holds five portfolios (Prime Minister, Foreign, Health, Immigration and now Defense) are not simple.

"I've seen it. I've seen the confusion, the chaos, the lack of determination, the lack of spirit", he said. "The security of the country is above political considerations".

"Today, I take on for the first time the position of defence minister", said Netanyahu in a statement broadcast live from Israel's defence headquarters in Tel Aviv.

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The situation today is not more unsafe than it was several months ago when the prime minister tried to dissolve his government for political reasons or because of the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation. If he survives until the end of next year - whether by winning early elections or those due by next November - he would fulfill his dream of becoming Israel's longest-serving leader.

"I told coalition party leaders not to topple the coalition", Netanyahu said at a Likud faction meeting.

Kahlon said before his meeting with Netanyahu that he did not think it was possible to continue with the existing coalition. They agreed to meet again next week, with Kahlon telling Israel Television News Company that the PM would need to "pull a rabbit from a hat" to keep the government running. "I suppose I will pay a political price", said Bennett, "but it's better if the prime minister beats us in a political battle than if [Hamas chief Ismail] Haniyeh beats us".

Early elections have loomed since March, when Netanyahu's fragile coalition was sent into a tailspin after the head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party Yaakov Litzman threatened not to support the government's 2019 state budget if a draft bill to exempt religious Jews from military conscription was not approved.

A week ago, Israel and Hamas were on the brink of a large-scale conflict after Hamas fired more than 400 rockets and mortars at Israel, while the IDF retaliated by sending its warplanes to bomb around a hundred sites in Gaza.

The Kulanu party's Knesset faction chair MK Roy Falkman said that the country is heading for early elections with or without the ministers' resignations.

Within minutes, a statement from Netanyahu's Likud said that was wrong. Only 17 percent of respondents were happy with Netanyahu's Gaza policy.

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