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Netanyahu's Two-Headed Dilemma: Contain Hamas and Save His Coalition

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, Photo, Facebook
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, Photo, Facebook

JERUSALEM, Israel – Following the decision to accept a ceasefire with Hamas and the subsequent resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must now address the resulting division within the coalition and between members of his own Likud party.

After meeting with Netanyahu Thursday, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon recommended early elections.

"In the present situation, the best thing for Israeli citizens and the Israeli economy is to go to early elections as soon as possible," Kahlon said, according to Israeli media reports.

While the Egyptian government and the United Nations both called on Israel to restrain its response to the rocket attacks, Israeli families were once again subjected to incessant air raid sirens and the sound of explosions as they took cover in bomb shelters in their homes and on the street.

Netanyahu's decision prompted Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett's Jewish Home party to ask for the defense portfolio, notwithstanding the prime minister's decision to temporarily fill the vacancy himself. Netanyahu also holds the foreign ministry portfolio along with the premiership.

Initial reports said Bennett threatened to pull his party out of the coalition, forcing the prime minister to dissolve the Knesset and hold new elections within three months.

"A government without deterrence is not a right-wing government," Jewish Home said in a statement. Without taking responsibility for the national task of changing the security situation together with the prime minister, there is no point in continuing the government's existence."

Netanyahu is reportedly meeting with Bennett Thursday to resolve the situation.

Likud MK Yehuda Glick condemned the Jewish Home Party, calling it a "fringe right-wing party" that's "become an opportunistic party of its leader," Arutz Sheva reported.

Meanwhile, in what some saw as an effort to defend Netanyahu, senior cabinet minister and fellow Likudnik Tzachi Hanegbi created a fresh headache in an interview with Army Radio Thursday, when he called the two-day rocket assault "minor" because the terrorists didn't target Tel Aviv.

"The attacks by Hamas were minor, most of the fire was around the Gaza area," the Times of Israel quoted Hanegbi. Firing rockets at Tel Aviv is a different story."

According to the report, Hanegbi based his logic on the "tremendous implications" of Tel Aviv's importance as the hub of Israel's economy and its proximity to Ben Gurion International Airport.

Netanyahu quickly repudiated Hanegbi's logic, saying there's no difference between southern Israel and anywhere else in the country. Members of the opposition also condemned his remarks.

Hanegbi later apologized, saying he didn't mean to distinguish between the lives of the residents.

"If what I said was misunderstood, I am sorry," he said in a statement.

For those who've been the main target of attacks by Hamas and other Gaza-based Islamic groups, Hanegbi's comments were like pouring salt on an open wound. On Wednesday, many residents took to the streets to protest the government's decision.

Hamas, meanwhile, celebrated the ceasefire, calling it a victory against the Zionist occupiers.

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