Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced his resignation on Wednesday and called for elections to be held as soon as possible, saying he hopes a date will be set by Sunday. Lieberman said of all the members of his party, Yisrael Beiteinu, will quit the coalition.
However, a senior source in Likud, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party, said that elections are not neccessarily the next step and added that Netanyahu will initially take on Lieberman’s portfolio. Lieberman, who heads Yisrael Beiteinu, will retake his Knesset seat following his resignation, as provided for by law.
“I didn’t look for reasons to quit,” Lieberman said. “I tried to remain a loyal government member, in the cabinet, keep differences internal even at an electoral cost.” The two turning points, he said, were the millions of dollars in cash delivered from Qatar to Gaza, and the cease-fire Israel reached with Hamas on Tuesday.
“There is no other definition, no other significance, but a capitulation to terror,” he said, adding: “What we are doing now as a country is buying short-term quiet at the cost of our long-term security.”
“It is no secret there were differences between the prime minister and I,” he said. “I did not agree to allow entry of Qatari money [into Gaza], and I had to allow it only after the prime minister announced it.” Lieberman said similar differences revolved around the evacuation of the West Bank Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar.
Yisrael Beiteinu’s departure means Netanyahu still holds a Knesset majority of 61 seats to maintain the coalition. Another key coalition partner in Netanyahu’s government, Habayit Hayehudi (headed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett) said that unless the defense portfolio goes to Bennett, the party will also quit the coalition.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said Lieberman’s resignation is a recognition of Israel’s defeat in this week’s military confrontation with the Islamic group.
Following the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Lieberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett published statements against the truce reached with Hamas. Sources said that as soon as the latest round of fighting erupted, Lieberman demanded a “harsh, decisive” move against Hamas. Sources near Bennett say that his opposition to the cease-fire was clear as could be.
Other sources, however, say that ultimately, the ministers unanimously supported the defense establishment’s position that action should be taken to restore the calm.
According to associates of Lieberman, the Prime Minister’s Office’s claim on Tuesday that he had supported the cease-fire agreement that was reached to end hostilities in Gaza infuriated him.
Senior Hamas official Husan Badran said Tuesday, the third day of hostilities, that “if Netanyahu is interested in ending this round, he must fire [Defense Minister] Lieberman, who in his foolish conduct caused the escalation.”
In recent weeks, Lieberman and Bennett have publicly argued between them about Gaza and Israel’s actions there. Last month, Bennett charged Lieberman of a weak, left-wing defense policy, while Lieberman retorted that in cabinet meetings, Bennett says the opposite of what he says in public.
Lieberman and the cabinet were divided about the sale of gasoline and natural gas to Gaza, and in defense forums, it was decided that the defense minister may not make decisions on the subject without the cabinet’s agreement. The ministers were surprised last month by Lieberman’s decision to cut off the fuel supply to Gaza, a decision he made on his own, in contradiction to the position of the defense establishment. Netanyahu and the cabinet members heard of the decision for the first time through the media.