Israel's Netanyahu to give statement amid signs of early election
* Defence chief's resignation over Gaza triggered crisis
* Coalition partners pushing for snap election
* Netanyahu has said wants to complete term ending in
(Adds imminent statement)
By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu will make a televised statement on Sunday
after making a last-ditch effort to avoid the collapse of a
coalition government weakened by the resignation of his defence
Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud party, has met over
the past few days with coalition partners, some of whom have
called for an early election. Political pundits predict a snap
vote could come as soon as March, instead of November as
Netanyahu's office said he would make a statement to
reporters at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT), giving no details.
The remarks will follow a meeting between Netanyahu and his
finance minister, Moshe Kahlon of the centre-right Kulanu party,
who has urged setting an early election date.
Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman's resignation, announced
on Wednesday over what he described as the government's lenient
policy towards 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.
That put the fate of Netanyahu's coalition at the mercy of
its partners, who have seen the four-term prime minister's
popularity take a rare hit in an opinion poll that showed
Israelis were unhappy with him over Gaza.
Netanyahu described his planned meeting with Kahlon as "a
last attempt to prevent the collapse of the government".
Addressing his cabinet on Sunday, he 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 defence chief but was turned down by Netanyahu on
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 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.
(Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell
Editing by Andrew Heavens and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)
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