Netanyahu faces snap election calls after defense minister quits

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman delivers a statement at the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018. (AP)
Updated 15 November 2018
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Netanyahu faces snap election calls after defense minister quits

  • Avigdor Lieberman quit on Wednesday over what he described as the government’s too-soft policy on cross-border violence with Palestinian militants
  • The loss of the five seats of Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu faction leaves Netanyahu with control of just 61 of the 120 seats in parliament

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced calls on Thursday from his coalition partners to hold an early election, a day after the defense minister’s resignation left the government with a razor-thin majority.
Avigdor Lieberman quit on Wednesday over what he described as the government’s too-soft policy on cross-border violence with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
The loss of the five seats of Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu faction leaves Netanyahu with control of just 61 of the 120 seats in parliament, raising the prospect that a scheduled November 2019 election would be brought forward.
Lieberman’s resignation takes effect 48 hours after being handed in, which he did early on Thursday. Each coalition partner will then have the power to bring down the government.
To avert a crisis, Netanyahu has been holding talks with ministers in an effort to stabilize the government.
Israel’s Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who heads the centrist Kulanu party, said he told Netanyahu in their meeting that the responsible step to take would be to establish a new and stable government.
“The best thing for Israel’s citizens and economy is to hold an election as soon as possible,” Kahlon said in a statement. His call was echoed by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas faction.
Adding to the pressure, Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the far-right Jewish Home party, has demanded the defense brief by given to him.
Both Lieberman and Bennett, who compete with Netanyahu’s Likud for right-wing voters, have spoken in favor of harsh Israeli military action against Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists.
Israel has fought three wars in Gaza since Hamas took over the enclave in 2007.
“I asked the prime minister yesterday to appoint me defense minister to fulfil one goal only — that Israel start winning again,” Bennett said at a conference near Tel Aviv.
Jewish Home said on Wednesday that without the defense brief, there would be no point in keeping the government together.
However Bennett did not repeat this in his remarks on Thursday nor did he render an explicit ultimatum to Netanyahu, with whom he is due to meet on Friday.
It was unclear whether Netanyahu would opt for an early election.
Netanyahu is under investigation for corruption, and speculation has been rife that he may bring the ballot forward in order to win a renewed mandate before Israel’s attorney-general decides whether to indict him.
A poll published on Wednesday by Israel’s Hadashot television news showed Likud falling by one seat from 30 to 29 after months of surveys that have shown it gaining power. Only 17 percent of respondents were happy with Netanyahu’s Gaza policy.


UN Syria envoy to host top envoys from Russia, Turkey, Iran

Updated 12 min 20 sec ago
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UN Syria envoy to host top envoys from Russia, Turkey, Iran

  • The talks scheduled for Tuesday in Geneva will likely be one of Staffan de Mistura’s last meetings with major players in the Syrian conflict

GENEVA: The outgoing UN envoy for Syria will meet top diplomats from Iran, Russia and Turkey this week, his office said Monday, in a final bid to make headway toward a new Syrian constitution.
The talks scheduled for Tuesday in Geneva will likely be one of Staffan de Mistura’s last meetings with major players in the Syrian conflict, as the veteran UN diplomat is due to step down in the coming days.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov will attend, a spokesperson from his office said.
A Turkish diplomatic source told AFP that Ankara’s top envoy Mevlut Cavusoglu will be in Geneva along with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The UN did not immediately confirm the list of attendees.
The planned constitutional committee was agreed at a Russia-hosted conference in January.
The centerpiece of UN peace efforts in Syria, the committee would be tasked with negotiating a new post-war constitution that would pave the way to elections aimed at turning the page on seven years of devastating war.
But it has run into objections from the Syrian government.
The opposition has pushed for an entirely new constitution, but Damascus has said it will only discuss altering the current one.
In October, Damascus rejected a list presented by de Mistura of 50 civil society representatives and technical experts.