A meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett have failed to bear fruit, raising the specter of early elections.
“Negotiations between Netanyahu and Bennett over the latter's demand to assume the defense portfolio have failed, thus increasing the chances of early polls,” Israel’s Channel 10 reported on Friday.
After the meeting, Netanyahu's Likud party (30 Knesset seats) issued a statement expressing the prime minister’s hope of preserving his Likud-led coalition government.
Netanyahu, the statement added, would assume the defense portfolio until further notice.
The meeting between Netanyahu and Bennett comes two days after hardline Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned in protest against a Hamas-Israel truce hammered out earlier this week.
Following Lieberman’s resignation, Bennett’s right-wing Jewish Home party (eight Knesset seats) threatened to withdraw from the government unless Bennett was given the defense portfolio.
If the party bolts, Netanyahu’s governing coalition will collapse, as it will lose its single-seat majority in the assembly.
The Israeli Broadcasting Authority (IBA) reported Friday that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, leader of coalition partner Kulanu (10 Knesset seats), was insisting on going to early polls.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, meanwhile, chairman of coalition partner Shas (seven seats), is also reportedly calling for early elections.
"Early elections should be held for the good of the country," Deri was quoted as saying.
According to Israeli media reports, Netanyahu on Sunday plans to hold additional talks with leaders of other coalition partners.
In the event that early elections are called, they will most likely be held in March of next year.