“Swift elections must be held, and a new, united and strong government must be formed,” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced this evening calling for early Knesset elections hours after firing opposition members Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni from his cabinet.
Netanyahu opened a televised press conference from his Jerusalem office, “I turn to you, the citizens of Israel, this evening because under the current situation, from within the current government, it is impossible to lead a state,” He then outlined his achievements in office, citing his dealings with the Iran, construction in Jerusalem and Gaza, stating he led “one of the best and most stable governments in the history of Israel.”
Yet Netanyahu took a decidedly defensive position railing against his critics, as he has done in Knesset sessions over the past few days, lambasting cabinet members and political rivals Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni by name.
According to an early partial transcript published by Haaretz he said, “During Operation Protective Edge, I led the operation with the defense minister and the chief of staff – we acted with determination and consideration, and I was not put off by criticism or background noise.” He continued, “But this government has been much harder.”
“Livni is the last to talk about responsibility,” said Netanyahu adding, “Today, a little while ago, she attacked the government again. Livni and Lapid have one thing in common–they talk about new politics, but in practice they practice old politics.”
Indeed earlier in the day both Lapid and Livni spoke against Netanyahu, as the Knesset was already discussing possible election dates. Netanyahu was criticized for his Jewish nationality law that would define Israel as a “Jewish state” (Netanyahu’s hardline version of the draft omitted the word “equality” between Israeli-Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel), a proposed increase of $1.5 billion to the defense budget,and a VAT tax exemption for first time home purchases
“The elections are not over zero VAT, but about whether there will be a Zionist or extremist country here,” said Livni that same day at a security conference in Tel Aviv.
“Instead of wasting billions of shekels on an unnecessary election campaign, instead of paralyzing the Israeli economy, we could have passed a socially oriented budget, added billions of shekels to education, health and welfare, public security, continue with the national housing plan that increased the supply dramatically, and given young couples a discount of over 200,000 shekels on new apartments through zero VAT and the targeted price plan,” said Yair Lapid at an energy conference also in Tel Aviv today.
Within hours of giving their statements decrying Netanyahu, both Knesset members were dismissed from their posts. The prime minister’s office circulated a notice of the termination two hours before Netanyahu called for an unusual 8:00 pm press conference where he announced the coming elections. No date has been set, but commentators are suggesting a March vote.
As Knesset edges towards a return to the polls and the selection of a Prime Minister, Netanyahu will do so without his strongest coalition partners. He has lost the centrist Yesh Atid led by now opposition head Yair Lapid and Netanyahu’s one time right hand, the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu headed by Avigdor Lieberman.
Weeks ago when Knesset debated the state’s economic health while planning a new state budget Lapid grew angry over Netanyahu’s refusal to cut expenditures to the settlements, foreshadowing the early elections. Netanyahu formulated a solution to cover the budget gaps: sell off state-owned defense industries. Since that time fiscal management differences moved Netanyahu away from Lapid and Yesh Atid.
However, Netanyahu was vulnerable to losing his mandate as prime minster since the summer.
During the 50-day war in Gaza Lieberman said his Yisrael Beiteinu party was splitting from the ruling bloc. This was reiterated yesterday. The loss of the hard-right group was a damaging hit for Netanyahu as he remained the majority leader by only one vote. Similar to the British parliamentary system, if an Israeli Prime Minister’s cabinet does not represent a ruling majority in the Knesset, or there is a vote of no confidence, the government will dissolve ushering in new elections. In order to maintain his position after Lieberman left, Netanyahu needed the support of Lapid and Livni. But they effectively ended the coalition yesterday when the they refused to back Netanyahu’s Jewish nationality law and the VAT-exemption.
“Those of you who hear me now and want a prime minister from the left–can elect [their own] candidate; those who want a strong prime minister from the national camp–those from the center and from the right–I am asking you to elect the ruling party under my leadership in order to give me a real mandate to lead the people and the country,” said Netanyahu, braving another chance at the polls.