Amid political uncertainty, Netanyahu urges government responsibility

After Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation sparks a potential political crisis, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu names himself defense minister and explains that early elections would be unwise at this time, given the complex security threats facing Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the plenary session in the Knesset on Oct. 31, 2018. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the plenary session in the Knesset on Oct. 31, 2018. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.

Amid mounting uncertainty surrounding possible early elections, a politically charged Sunday was supposed to end with a fraught meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who had voiced his support for dissolving the Knesset and calling early elections at this time.

The day ended, however, with a dramatic address by Netanyahu, clarifying that he would take the defense minister’s position, recently vacated by Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, upon himself, rather than appointing a replacement.

Netanyahu also said that heading to elections now, amid repeated violent confrontations with Gaza terrorists, was “irresponsible” of his coalition partners, who have been pushing for early polls since Lieberman’s resignation last week over a Gaza cease-fire agreement.

Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett, who threatened to bolt the coalition unless he was given the defense portfolio, walked back his demands on Monday, thereby averting the inevitable early elections that his resignation from the coalition would have set in motion.

Bennett’s announcement was preceded by an emotional plea on Sunday evening, in which Netanyahu said, “I hope that all the [coalition] partners will act responsibly and refrain from toppling the government. I believe that we need to continue forward, together, for the sake of the state and for the security of Israel.”

“Today, I assume the role of defense minister for the first time, and I know that I am doing it at a time when Israel’s defense policy is facing a lot of criticism,” he continued. “Citizens of Israel, I understand how you are feeling. Much of the criticism stems from the fact that, for obvious reasons, the full reality that is known only to the IDF chief of staff, military generals, the heads of the Shin Bet security agency, the Mossad and to myself cannot be divulged. I can’t present these things to you, and you are only seeing part of the picture, but we are still in the midst of a large-scale battle. I am committed to completing it in order to ensure absolute security for the residents of the south and all the citizens of Israel. I won’t reveal here, tonight, when and how we will act, but I have a clear plan. I know what needs to be done and when to do it, and we will do it.”

Netanyahu went on to say: “When I assumed the role of foreign minister, people were talking about diplomatic isolation and warning of a diplomatic tsunami that would destroy the State of Israel. In that instance, too, I knew what needed to be done and I did it. Today, Israel’s foreign relations are at an all-time high. Our relations with the U.S., which relocated its embassy to Jerusalem, are the best they’ve ever been; our relations with all the world powers and countries on all continents are the best they’ve ever been, and that includes Arab states.”

“When the dangerous nuclear agreement was reached with Iran, it seemed like a done deal. But there, too, I knew what needed to be done and I did it—I didn’t hesitate for a minute. I came out against the entire world. I came out against the former president of the United States. I had no choice but to come out against those in Israel who hailed this terrible agreement that threatened our existence. I took every possible action to ensure the reversal of the agreement and the reimposition of the sanctions, and that’s exactly what happened,” he said.

“You don’t play politics in the middle of a war.”

According to Netanyahu, “Not everyone saw things [my way] then, but everyone sees now. The same will happen with the security issue—we will defeat our enemies. I say this, my friends, without minimizing the challenge that we face one bit. I am telling you in advance, it will involve sacrifice. But I have no doubt that with our strong spirit, our soldiers’ strong spirit and the strength of our citizens we will defeat our enemies.”

“I’m telling you from experience that we are currently facing one of the most complex security situations. This is not the time to dissolve the government. At a time like this, you don’t go to elections. That would be irresponsible. We have an entire year before the [scheduled] elections, and we are now in the middle of war—you don’t walk away in the middle of a war. You don’t play politics in the middle of a war. The security of the state is beyond politics, and the security of the state is also beyond personal considerations,” said Netanyahu.

He concluded by saying, “You’ve seen the efforts that I’ve been making in recent days to prevent unnecessary early elections. I spoke with all the coalition leaders, and I told them that it is time to display responsibility. Don’t topple the coalition, particularly in this security climate.

“I warned them not to repeat the mistake made in 1992 when a Likud government was overthrown and the replacement government brought about the Oslo disaster. We mustn’t repeat the mistake from 1999, when the Likud government was overthrown and the government that rose to power gave us the [Second] Intifada and more than 1,000 deaths. I hope that this time all the partners will act responsibly and won’t allow the government to fall.”

On Monday, ahead of Bennett’s announcement, Netanyahu reiterated the message, telling the coalition that it would be “irresponsible” to dissolve the government and call early elections.

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