Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu announced new elections this evening after firing two key ministers in his government – Yesh Atid leader Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Hatnua leader Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.
Netanyahu instructed Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit on Tuesday evening to issue termination letters to the two senior ministers, citing constant criticism aimed at him and his government from both Livni and Lapid.
The prime minister said he will call for the dissolution of the Knesset as soon as possible in order to go to elections and “receive a clear mandate from the people to lead Israel.”
“In recent weeks, including the last 24 hours, Ministers Lapid and Livni harshly attacked the government under my leadership. I won’t tolerate any more opposition within the government, I won’t tolerate ministers attacking from within the government the government’s policies and its leader,” Netanyahu said in a statement released shortly after the announcement.
In a press conference Tuesday evening, Netanyahu argued that “at the current situation, from within the current government, we cannot lead the country and my responsibility as prime minister is to lead the country.”
He said that while his previous administration had achieved much in service of the nation, its current iteration had been forced on him. “The ruling party under my leadership, the Likud party, did not get enough mandates,” he said.
Netanyahu stressed that he refused to continue to govern with open dissent from within the coalition, urging the people of Israel to provide him with a safe majority from which he could lead.
The prime minister took the opportunity to attack Livni for playing what he described as the “old politics. This is not how you run a government,” while Lapid, he said, attempted a “putsch” of the current administration.
Amid the confusion created following the announcement, the four other Yesh Atid party ministers said they were considering resigning if they are not fired beforehand.
Both Livni and Netanyahu attended a ceremony at the President’s Residence on Tuesday evening, sitting alongside each other. But sources close to Livni said it was only after leaving the President’s Residence that Netanyahu called her to fire her.
“It’s a pity you did not have the courage to do it eye-to-eye,” Livni told Netanyahu, according to the sources.
The Yesh Atid party lashed out at Netanyahu following the announcement. “The prime minister failed in the governing of the State of Israel and in taking care of the Israeli public’s needs. The frightened act of firing the ministers is an act of cowardice and shows the loss of control.” the Yesh Atid party said in a statement on Tuesday evening.
“We regret that the prime minister chose to act irresponsibly towards the nation and drag the state of Israel into an unnecessary elections campaign, which will cause damage to the economy and to the Israeli society, and all of this out of small political interests, weakness and concession to the haredim, the Likud members and interest groups.”
Yesh Atid’s ministers are Health Minister Yael German, Education Minister Shai Piron, Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri and Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen.
Elections less than two years since the last vote seemed almost inevitable after Lapid rejected an ultimatum from Netanyahu in an explosive meeting Monday night ostensibly aimed at salvaging the warring coalition government.
Lapid hard harsh words for the prime minister Tuesday morning, calling him irresponsible for taking the country to the polls for the second time in two years and accusing him of lining the pockets of the ultra-Orthodox with the money of the middle class.
“The prime minister decided to lead us to unnecessary elections,” said Lapid at an energy conference in Haifa, which in light of events found itself transformed into a political convention. “The prime minister only wanted to be told ‘no’ and then kiss and tell. Netanyahu chose to act with national irresponsibility and not meet his obligations to the public.”
Shas leader Aryeh Deri, however, declined to make an absolute commitment to back Netanyahu to keep his job if and when the country goes to the polls, despite Lapid’s accusations and reports that the prime minister had engineered a deal with the religious parties.
“There is no deal before the election, we have no agreement,” Deri insisted at a press conference in Ashdod. “There were two deals, from the left and from the right. Yesterday they tried to convince me not to hold elections and to form a government without Netanyahu. As we have consistently said, ‘alternative government? Only after the elections’.”