Benjamin Netanyahu faces a showdown with his coalition government partners on Sunday as he tries to stop them from forcing early elections in the wake of his unpopular decision to agree to a ceasefire with Hamas.
Three of the smaller parties in the Israeli prime minister’s coalition have demanded elections as soon as possible and want to use today’s cabinet meeting to formally agree on a date for the vote.
However, Mr Netanyahu said he wants to keep the government together and is eager to push the date of the elections off for several more months.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu stressed that it is important to make every effort to preserve the Right-wing government,” said a spokesman for his Likud party.
Mr Netanyahu on Saturday said he wanted his government to see out the end of its term, blaming the centre-Right Kulanu party for the turmoil.
"If the Kulanu faction doesn’t bring the government down – there is a government," he said on Twitter. "All Likud members want to keep serving the country for another whole year until the end of the term in November 2019."
He is hoping a delayed election will leave more time for the Right-wing voters of his base to forget about last week’s ceasefire agreement with Hamas to stop fighting in Gaza.
Many Israelis on the Right wanted to see Israeli forces move more aggressively against the Islamist militants, who fired around 460 rockets and mortars into southern Israel during the fighting.
Mr Netanyahu’s defence minister resigned over the ceasefire and civilians in the southern city of Sderot, which is regularly targeted by Hamas rockets, burned tyres and blocked streets in protest.
If the prime minister holds his ground and refuses to grant elections then coalition party leaders face a choice: they can stay in the government and allow Mr Netanyahu to limp on or leave the government and bring the coalition crashing down.
The smaller parties may be loathe to bring down the government because it will allow Mr Netanyahu to present himself as a responsible leader who tried to maintain Israel’s stability while other parties clamored for elections.
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The two sides may reach a compromise where Mr Netanyahu agrees to elections but on a longer timetable, possibly with elections in late March, which favours his own political interests.
Mr Netanyahu goes into the cabinet facing off against three of his own ministers. His main irritant is Naftali Bennett, the 46-year-old education minister and leader of the Right-wing Jewish Home party.
Mr Bennet, who was once Mr Netanyahu’s chief of staff, is trying chip away Right-wing voters from the Likud by promising a tougher line against Hamas.
The two men have a frosty personal relationship, with Mr Netanyahu’s allies accusing Mr Bennett of leaking material from cabinet meetings to undermine the prime minister.
Despite the chaos in the coalition and the corruption scandal swirling around him and his wife, Mr Netanyahu appears well placed to win an election and form a new Right-wing government.
One of Mr Netanyahu’s Likud MPs, Oren Hazan, was suspended for six weeks this week after insulting a defence ministry official.
Mr Hazan, who previously embarrassed the prime minister by taking a selfie with Donald Trump, can still vote but is barred from any other parliamentary activity. His suspension gives Mr Netanyahu’s weakened government even less room for manoeuvre.
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