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Netanyahu struggles to break through early election clamor after Israel-Gaza flare-up

Xinhua | Updated: 2018-11-20 07:42
File photo of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. [Photo/VCG]

JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heaved a brief sigh of relief on Monday, as his major coalition partners decided to remain in the government despite earlier threats to resign over differences on defense matters.

This crisis, not the first to plague Netanyahu's coalition, broke out after violence between Israel and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, flared up last week.

The immediate result was the resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman after his demand for a harsher response against Hamas was not met.

Afterwards, Naftali Bennett, a coalition partner from the hardline Jewish Home party, threatened resignation before retracting and announcing that he would give Netanyahu one last chance to adopt a tougher stance against the threats Israel faces.

"We are in one of the most complex security situations and during a period like this, you don't topple a government ... you don't go to elections," Netanyahu warned hours ahead of Bennet's announcement.

The Israeli general elections are slated for November 2019, but in recent months there has been increasing talk of early elections.

Netanyahu is about to complete a decade in office, one of the longest tenures held by a leader in the country with political instability, as no Israeli government has completed a full term since 1988.

"There is a great chance elections will still be advanced," said Avraham Diskin, an associate professor with Political Science at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu now leads a narrow coalition of 61 members, a razor-thin majority in the 120-seat Israeli parliament, as the election year is coming closer.

"Each member will now look for a reason to topple the government," Diskin said.

Behind all the premier's considerations on whether to advance elections or not are the looming allegations of corruption.

The Israeli police have recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for bribery and breach of trust, with the final decision in the hands of the attorney general.

"Netanyahu wants the early election, but he does not want to be blamed for it," said Akiva Eldar, a political commentator for Al-Monitor Israel.

"Security is sacred in Israel," he told Xinhua. "The perception in Israel is that elections are costly and harmful to security."

However, Diskin said it is not the main consideration for Netanyahu on the issue of an early election.

Another outstanding matter is the elusive US peace plan aimed at ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu, a staunch ally of US President Donald Trump, can market his friendship with the US leader as a guarantee to safeguard Israeli interests at a time when the Jewish state may have to make difficult compromises toward the Palestinians.

In addition, the Israeli leader will also cite Trump's alignment with him on the Iranian nuclear deal.

"Israel's security problems are far from solved," said Diskin. "Iran is an existential threat and there is the daily threat to security from Hamas in Gaza."

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