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Lieberman Resigns From Defense Minister Post, Party Leaves Coalition; Calling for Elections; Bayit Yehudi May be Following Suit

The rumors have been floating all day as Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman called a meeting of his party’s faction in Knesset, followed by the announcement that he is convening a press conference in Knesset at 1:00PM. As expected, Mr. Lieberman has announced his resignation from his senior cabinet post in response to the handling of the last round of Hamas warfare, as well as citing additional factors that entered into his decision, to follow in subsequent reports. One of those contributory factors is the government permitting Qatar to hand over $15 million to Hamas to pay salaries. Lieberman insists no one is guaranteeing the money is not going to Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure.

He clarified for reporters that his party is leaving the coalition, which leaves Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with a coalition of 61, a one-seat majority.

His resignation delivers a major blow to Netanyahu’s coalition government and sparked immediate calls for early elections. Lieberman said he hoped that in the coming days a date would be set for a new vote. The opposition parties joined his call.

The government still has a narrow one-seat majority in the Knesset without Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu faction, but is unlikely to survive until the next elections, currently set for November 2019.

During his press conference, Lieberman not only resigned his senior cabinet post but called for announcing early Knesset elections at the first possible date. He explained there have been differences in the cabinet, but if he continued in his post, he would not be able to look southern residents in the face.

Lieberman explained after the cabinet once again permitted Hamas to fire rockets at will without taking the necessary measures to halt attacks and restore deterrence to prevent future attacks. He called the cabinet’s decision not to launch a major military operation a “surrender to terror”.

Lieberman’s resignation will take effect in 48 hours and Netanyahu will take over the defense portfolio on an interim basis. Netanyahu currently also serves as Israel’s foreign minister.

The $15 million was the limit
Lieberman told reporters “I don’t intend to attack anyone personally, but there have been differences of opinion”, and he explains he has reached his limit and can no longer exhibit flexibility, as the handing over of the $15 million and the acceptance of the latest Hamas self-declared ceasefire was the last straw for him.

Regarding the draft law 
Regarding the draft law, he emphasized his position has not changed, and he is not going to budge, unwilling to accept any amended versions of the law as the chareidim are working to push through, referring to law approved by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-General Gadi Eizenkott. Lieberman added he believes this will be the position of the Yesh Atid party, as the party announced would be the case.

Bayit Yehudi demanding the defense portfolio
Bayit Yehudi MK Shuli Muallem told KAN 11 News, “From my perspective, the defense portfolio must go to Naftali Bennet”. She insists that Bennet is far more familiar with the defense issues and the defense establishment than Lieberman, and that is why she believes he must serve in order to permit him to restore deterrence to the nation. She added the party would not remain in the coalition if Bennet is not given the post, adding it is absurd that PM Netanyahu hold three senior cabinet posts, Prime Minister, Defense Minister and Foreign Minister. Naftali Bennett, has already announced that if he is not appointed defense minister it will also quit the coalition – a move that would trigger early elections.

Likud: We will hold the defense portfolio
Sources in Likud are quoted telling Ynet that the defense portfolio will remain in the Prime Minister’s hands.

Lieberman stressed numerous times as he responded to questions from reporters that his statements refer to policy decisions only and he has not leveled an attack against anyone personally.

Bereaved parents comment
The parents of Lt. Hadar Goldin HY”D, whose body is held by Hamas commented, “There is no agreement without the return of soldiers and civilians, and this responsibility is now exclusively on the shoulders of Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we thank Minister Lieberman for his steadfast and resolute steadfastness during his term of office, and especially recently.”

Meretz responds
Meretz left-wing opposition party leader MK Tamar Zandberg said “Baruch Shebatrani”, calling Lieberman a “racist”.

Minister Deri responds
Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri responded, “I regret the resignation of my colleague Avigdor Lieberman as Defense Minister. Lieberman served as defense minister with dedication and professionalism, and his resignation weakens the government”.

Machane Tzioni leader responds
Avi Gabbai, who heads the Machane Tzioni opposition party said this is what he had to do in light of his failures in the post. “There is so security for Southern Israeli residents”.

Hamas applauds the situation
Hamas spokesman Sami Abi Zohari responded saying, “Lieberman’s resignation is recognition of the defeat and helplessness in the confrontation with the Palestinian resistance, a political victory for Gaza that succeeded in its steadfastness to create a political earthquake in Israel”.

Readers are reminded that back in 2016, Lieberman resigned as a MK under the Norwegian Law to permit another party member to enter Knesset. As such, he is no longer a cabinet member or MK, but is the chairman of his Yisrael Beitenu party.

Lieberman during recent months has been a lone voice, calling for a stern military response to Hamas attacks, but once again, the cabinet has accepted a Hamas-declared ceasefire, as the government preferred this option over the option of a major military operation.

It is pointed out that all security establishment leaders; including the heads of the Shin Bet, Mossad, IDF and other agencies, reportedly agreed with PM Netanyahu and opposed a major military operation at this time.

It is now up to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to respond, and it is most likely he will prefer early elections over the option of having to appoint Bayit Yehudi chairman Education Minister Naftali Bennet to the Defense Ministry post as Bayit Yehudi believes if Lieberman steps down, they should have the senior post. There has been much chat on social media today that the post should go to Bennet, a former officer in the prestigious Sayeret Matkal unit. However, it is known that he is a political nemesis of PM Netanyahu, and it is most unlikely he will be appointed to the post as he wishes.

Alternatively, the post can remain in the Likud, or perhaps more likely, it would go to a coalition member with credentials, such as Housing Minister (Kulanu) Yoav Gallant, as he is a retired IDF major-general and was a candidate to become chief of staff. PM Netanyahu is not likely to keep the post himself, as he already serves as Foreign Minister in addition to being Prime Minister. However, Mr. Netanyahu is not likely to permit the coalition to limp along with a one-vote majority.

Lieberman’s decision is likely to assist him in the next Knesset elections, as he has signaled, he is maintaining his right-wing ideology and is unwilling to continue permitting Hamas to attack Israel at will to remain in his senior cabinet post. He has come under harsh criticism for permitting repeated Hamas flareups during his tenure, especially after repeatedly announcing if he becomes Defense Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, the former Hamas Prime Minister of Gaza, would have 48 hours to turn over the bodies of IDF soldiers and Israeli captives being held in Gaza or he would be eliminated, an ultimatum that has haunted Lieberman since accepting the appointment.

This is not the first time that Lieberman has resigned from a senior cabinet post. In fact, in December 2012, he resigned from his post as Foreign Minister, amid reports he was facing a criminal indictment. He announced he was stepping down, despite not having any legal obligation to do so.

Ironically for the chareidi parties, they are not the cause of early elections as appeared would be the case, surrounding the controversial new draft law. In fact, the chareidim did an about-face, hoping to complete the term, realizing early elections might leave the decision regarding a new draft law and talmidei yeshivos in the hands of the High Court of Justice, a most unwanted situation.

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)

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