Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would make a last-ditch effort on Sunday to avoid the collapse of a coalition government weakened by the resignation of his defense minister.
With political pundits predicting an early election in March, Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud party, was to meet later in the day with his finance minister, who is leading a charge within the coalition toward a snap poll.
The minister, Moshe Kahlon of the center-right Kulanu party, will urge Netanyahu to set an election date promptly, Kulanu officials said.
Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation, announced on Wednesday over what he described as the government’s lenient policy toward an upsurge of cross-border violence with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, left the government with a majority of only one seat in parliament.
Netanyahu described his planned meeting with Kahlon as “a last attempt to prevent the collapse of the government”.
Addressing his cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu said it would be “unnecessary and wrong to go to an election during this sensitive period for our security”.
ROCKETS, AIR RAIDS
Kahlon said on Hadashot TV news on Saturday that it was impossible to run a coalition with control of just 61 of parliament’s 120 seats.
Kahlon’s call was echoed by members of the nationalist Jewish Home whose head, Naftali Bennett, asked to succeed Lieberman as defense chief but was turned down by Netanyahu on Friday.
On Sunday, Israeli media reports said Netanyahu was now prepared to offer Bennett the post in a bid to keep Jewish Home in the coalition.
Such a move, the unconfirmed reports said, would also be aimed at forcing Kahlon to consider the risks to his own party, which also courts nationalist voters, in being portrayed as the main factor behind the collapse of a rightist government.
A poll published on Wednesday by Hadashot showed Likud falling from 30 to 29 parliamentary seats after months of polls that have shown it gaining power.
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 toward reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts that collapsed in 2014. The Trump administration has said it would unveil a peace plan soon.
*This story was edited by Ahram Online.