Bennett: Netanyahu Didn't Object to Naming Me Defense Chief, but Israel Must Hold Early Elections

Netanyahu says he'll meet with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on Sunday in final bid to avoid early elections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, December 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Saturday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not object to his appointment as defense minister during their meeting on Friday following the resignation of Avigdor Lieberman.

Bennett added, however, that Israel should hold early elections because the coalition holds a razor-thin majority of 61 Knesset seats, saying "there is no right-wing government today."

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said in response that he has no objections to Bennett serving as defense chief, but a governing coalition can't run with only 61 seats.

A Netanyahu aide rejected Bennett's call for elections, calling on the education minister to "be responsible and not assist in toppling the government which could serve for another year."

Netanyahu said earlier Saturday that he plans to meet Kahlon on Sunday in a final attempt to save his governing coalition and averting early elections.

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Netanyahu said that "if [Kahlon's party] Kulanu doesn't leave the government, there is a government. Kulanu can't bring down the right-wing government."

"All Likud faction members want to keep serving the county for another year. Until November 2019," he tweeted.

Netanyahu wants to keep his coalition intact and avoid dissolving the Knesset for at least another six weeks, even if elections are brought forward to late March or early April, a source close to the prime minister told Haaretz on Friday.

Netanyahu said that he "trusts the ministers not to topple a right-wing government and not to repeat the historic mistake of '92, when they toppled a right-wing government, put the left in power and brought the Oslo disaster on the state of Israel."

Although the coalition's collapse is inevitable, Netanyahu is attempting to postpone it for as long as possible. According to the source, it is important for Netanyahu to appoint a new police commissioner and military chief of staff. But if the Knesset is dissolved, these appointments could be blocked.

While the appointment of a new chief of staff is expected to be approved without problems, the appointment of retired Maj. Gen. Moshe Edri as police commissioner has encountered opposition in light of a misconduct complaint. The government committee that vets candidates for public service is set to meet on Sunday to consider the complaint. The current police commissioner chief's tenure ends on December 3, and Netanyahu wants time to find another candidate if Edri's appointment fails.

Coalition members also believe Netanyahu wants to make another attempt to lower the electoral threshold – the percentage of total votes cast that a party needs to enter the Knesset – before the next elections. However, Netanyahu has not raised this during talks with coalition partners.

Shas Chairman Arye Dery, who serves as interior minister, opposes lowering the threshold out of concern that his predecessor will run a new electoral list. Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is also against the idea for fear that it would cause a split in his United Torah Judaism party. 

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, July 2018.
Hadas Parush / Flash 90