TEL AVIV • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu succeeded in keeping his tottering governing coalition together, as a hawkish rival who was denied the defence portfolio yesterday said he would give the government more time to toughen its approach against Hamas militants in Gaza.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who was widely expected to topple the government by pulling his eight-person Jewish Home party out of the coalition, instead said he will stay for now.
Israel's benchmark stock index extended its gains after the announcement and the shekel reversed earlier losses.
Mr Bennett's shift comes after Mr Netanyahu, in a prime-time speech on Sunday night, said he would not make Mr Bennett defence minister.
He called coalition rebels "irresponsible" for considering bringing down the government while Israel faces threats on its northern and southern borders.
"I want to believe Netanyahu," Mr Bennett said in a news conference at the Knesset yesterday, alluding to the Prime Minister's promises of a stern response to any attacks on Israel. "The test will be deeds, not words."
The political crisis was triggered on Nov 14 when defence minister Avigdor Liberman quit and pulled his Yisrael Beitenu party's five legislators from the government, saying it was not responding forcefully enough to hundreds of rockets fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza.
DEEDS, NOT WORDS
I want to believe Netanyahu. The test will be deeds, not words.
MR NAFTALI BENNETT, Israel's Education Minister, alluding yesterday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's promises of a stern response to any attacks on Israel.
That left Mr Netanyahu with the support of just 61 members of the 120-seat Parliament.
If Jewish Home also left the government, Mr Netanyahu would lose his majority and early elections would likely be called.
Elections are slated for November next year, but no Israeli coalition in the past 30 years has served out its term.
The current one, formed in 2015, is one of the longest-lasting. Israeli commentators had predicted elections would be advanced to March.
Mr Netanyahu succeeded in buying himself some time, but the question of how to deal with Gaza will remain explosive, said Hebrew University political scientist Gideon Rahat, a senior associate at the Israel Democracy Institute.
"Israel's politics is in the hands of Hamas," he said. "We see that Netanyahu is very strong, but Hamas can give him trouble."
Polls suggest a new vote would not lead to a significantly changed Parliament.
A Hadashot News poll last Saturday showed Mr Netanyahu's Likud would remain the dominant party if elections were to be held today, with its representation stable at 30 seats.
Mr Bennett and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who had urged early elections, both said they expected Mr Netanyahu to win another term.
Another factor in eventual elections is the possibility that Mr Netanyahu could be indicted in an ongoing corruption probe.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit is due to decide whether to charge the Prime Minister in several cases involving alleged influence-trading.
Mr Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.