Netanyahu says calling Israeli snap polls now would be ‘irresponsible’

onen Zvulun, Reuters | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends an annual state memorial ceremony for Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, at his gravesite in Sde Boker, Israel, on November 14, 2018.
onen Zvulun, Reuters | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends an annual state memorial ceremony for Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, at his gravesite in Sde Boker, Israel, on November 14, 2018.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday calling snap elections now would be “irresponsible” as he vowed to push on despite a coalition crisis.

Speaking in an impassioned televised address to the nation, Mr Netanyahu also said he would retain the defence ministry portfolio at least for now and work to convince his coalition partners to remain in the government.

“To go to elections now would be irresponsible,” Mr Netanyahu said. “The security of the country is above political considerations.”

Education minister Naftali Bennett’s far-right Jewish Home party has threatened to withdraw from the coalition if he is not named defence minister.

Mr Netanyahu spoke of his military experience in his address and said he could not publicly explain the sensitive security moves currently being taken by Israel.

The long-time premier made the appearance as he came under pressure over a controversial ceasefire deal last week that ended the worst escalation between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since a 2014 war.

On Wednesday, defence minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned over the ceasefire, throwing the government into crisis.

After Mr Lieberman’s withdrawal along with his Yisrael Beitenu party, Mr Netanyahu’s government was left clinging to a one-seat majority in the 120-seat parliament.

Netanyahu spoke after a crucial meeting with finance minister Moshe Kahlon on resolving the coalition crisis.

Mr Kahlon’s office said earlier that his meeting with Mr Netanyahu ended without a conclusion and they would meet again later in the week.

Minutes before Netanyahu’s speech, Jewish Home announced that Bennett and another minister from his party would make an announcement in parliament on Monday, raising speculation they would resign and strip the prime minister of his majority.

A poll published on Wednesday by Hadashot TV news showed Likud falling to 29 from 30 parliamentary seats after months of polls that have shown it gaining power.

Only 17 percent of respondents were happy with Netanyahu’s policy toward Gaza, where he agreed to a ceasefire – dubbed by Lieberman as “surrender” – after militants from its ruling Hamas group launched almost 500 rockets into Israel on Monday and Tuesday and Israel carried out dozens of air raids.

Netanyahu’s re-election chances could also be affected by a series of corruption cases against him in which Israel’s attorney-general is weighing his indictment.

An election would complicate promised moves by the United States towards reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts that collapsed in 2014. The Trump administration has said it would unveil a peace plan soon.

AFP/REUTERS