Thousands attend Hamas rally near Gaza border with Israel

Leroy Wright
November 18, 2018

An official from Netanyahu's Likud party hit back at speculation that early elections would be called and said the prime minister would take charge of Lieberman's portfolio at least temporarily.

Early elections have loomed since March, when Netanyahu's fragile coalition was sent into a tailspin after the head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party Yaakov Litzman threatened not to support the government's 2019 state budget if a draft bill to exempt religious Jews from military conscription was not approved.

A party spokesman said Netanyahu met Education Minister Naftali Bennett Friday after the government was left with a knife-edge majority in parliament following a key coalition partner's resignation.

Thousands of demonstrators turned out at Gaza's frontier with Israel, an AFP reporter said, but most kept some distance from the border fence rather than seeking to damage or breach it as has been the case in the past.

Opposition lawmakers also urged Netanyahu to call early elections after Liberman resigned on Wednesday.

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"As things stand, the best thing for the citizens of Israel and the Israeli economy is to hold elections as soon as possible", Times of Israel quoted Kahlon telling Netanyahu, citing sources close to the finance minister.

Bennett's withdrawal from the coalition would leave Netanyahu without the minimum 61 seats needed to govern, making elections inevitable and ending a government that lasted almost four years. Netanyahu has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence, often employing the phrase "There will be nothing because there is nothing". However, opinion polls cited by Reuters show that Likud would likely remain the dominant party after a parliamentary election.

The government must choose an election date within three to five months.

But the crisis may pose a new challenge for the Israeli leader, since it appears he is being led to call early elections, instead of calling them on his own. April is unlikely because of Jewish holidays during the month.

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