A coalition in crisis – How long can Bibi rule with 61 Knesset seats?

Political pundits were already choosing possible dates in the spring for new elections after as defense minister and pull his Yisrael Beytenu party out of the coalition left Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a wafer-thin majority of only 61 out of 120 Knesset members.

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It was expected that Naftali Bennett, head of Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home), would follow suit, forcing early elections, after Netanyahu refused . However, in a press conference on November19, Bennett, together with Bayit Yehudi’s No. 2, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, made an embarrassing climb down, announcing they would remain in the Netanyahu government.

“I don’t know how long this government can last with only 61 Knesset members – this will be an uphill battle. But we’re willing to give it a try,” Bennett said. “If the government chooses the right path, and acts like a true right-wing government, then it’s worth a try. The ball is in the prime minister’s court.”

Netanyahu had himself pushed for early elections on two separate occasions during the term of the current government, only to be thwarted by his coalition partners. But this time, citing grave security concerns, he said that the coalition must remain in power and complete its term until November 2019.

“In such a period you don’t topple a government, in such a period you don’t go to elections,” he said in an address broadcast live on Israel’s main news channels, without specifying what security threats he was referring to.

The government crisis was prompted by the most serious escalation in the south since the 2014 Gaza war left Israel and Hamas on the brink of another major conflagration.

On November 11, an Israeli officer was killed along with seven Palestinian fighters, including a Hamas regional commander, in an exchange of fire after an Israeli reconnaissance unit was discovered making its way back to the border following a covert operation close to the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis.

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