Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced his resignation on Wednesday and called for early elections because of his opposition to a ceasefire deal between Israel and Gaza that brought an end to the worst fighting since the 2014 war.
Calling the ceasefire “giving in to terror,” the hard-line leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party said at an afternoon news conference in Jerusalem: “We are buying quiet for a short time at a very high price for long-term security.”
“From my perspective, what happened yesterday – the ceasefire yesterday – with all of the arrangements with Hamas, is giving in to terror. There is no other understanding. There is no other meaning. This is giving in to terror.”
“It is not a secret that there were in the past months differences of opinion between me and the Prime Minister,” Liberman said, adding that he hoped the remaining five parties in the coalition would agree on an election date by next week. Liberman’s resignation means he has withdrawn his party from the coalition.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the ceasefire earlier Wednesday, saying, “A leader does the right thing, even if it is difficult.” Speaking at a memorial for Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, Netanyahu said, “A leader sometimes has to stand and face criticism when there are things which are sensitive and under wraps that can’t be shared with Israeli citizens.
“Our enemies pleaded for a ceasefire and they well know why. Together with the heads of the security services, I see the overall picture of the security of Israel and I cannot share with the public,” Netanyahu said.
Liberman doesn’t have enough seats in Netanyahu’s coalition to bring down the government on his own and force early elections. Liberman holds only five seats of 66, leaving Netanyahu with a bare minimum coalition of 61. It gives the Israeli leader little wiggle room in his government, but Netanyahu managed with a similar coalition for some two years after the last election in 2015.
Along with criticism of the ceasefire deal, Liberman cited a second recent decision of the Israeli government in his resignation announcement: his opposition to allowing Qatar to send $15 million in cash to Gaza last week – money that was earmarked to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and ease tensions. Like the ceasefire, it amounted to a surrender to terrorism, he said.
“Hamas doesn’t talk about coexistence. Hamas doesn’t talk about recognizing the state of Israel,” Liberman said. “They will continue to invest their budget of $250-$270 million in getting stronger.”
A spokesman for Netanyahu’s Likud party, Jonatan Urich, said on Twitter: “There is no need for early elections during this sensitive security period. The government can complete its term. For the time being, the portfolio of Defense Minister will pass to the Prime Minister.”
Netanyahu could also give the portfolio of Defense Minister to one of his coalition partners. If he keeps it for himself, he would be Prime Minister, Defense Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs at the same time, holding the most critical seats in the government on his own.