Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced Wednesday afternoon that he would resign his position in the Netanyahu government, and that he will call for new elections.
"I'm here to announce my resignation as Defense Minister for the State of Israel,” Liberman told reporters at a press conference.
“The question is why now. As far as I'm concerned, what happened yesterday, the ceasefire yesterday, with the negotiations with Hamas, amounts to a capitulation to terrorism. There's no other way to describe it. It has no other meaning, it is simply a capitulation to terror."
Liberman cited a number of areas of disagreement between himself and Prime Minister Netanyahu, which he said culminated in Wednesday’s decision.
"It is no secret that over the past few months, there have been disagreements between myself and the Prime Minister. For instance, my opposition to the [decision] to permit fuel from Qatar to be allowed into the Gaza Strip. I did not want to permit Qatari fuel in [to Gaza]. I thought that this is a mistake. Only after the Prime Minister made a formal written order was I forced to allow Qatari fuel into the Strip."
Israel recently okayed the transfer of fuel purchased by Qatar into the Gaza Strip, and allowed the transfers to continue even as Hamas forces launched rockets into southern Israel.
The Qatari fuel transfers have allowed the sole power plant in the Hamas-controlled enclave to provide electricity to residents, despite the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to pay for power transfers from Israel to the Strip. The PA has demanded Hamas restore the Strip to full PA control.
Liberman also cited the recent coalition decision, pushed by Netanyahu, to delay implementation of a Supreme Court order to demolish the illegal Bedouin encampment of Khan al-Ahmar east of Jerusalem.
"The same thing happened with the evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar. With the takeover by a Bedouin tribe of a strategic area between Maale Adumim and the Dead Sea on Highway 1, I thought it was imperative that we evacuate it. Sadly, in this case as well, the Prime Minister issued a direct order and blocked the evacuation."
Speaking at a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting Wednesday just before the press conference, Liberman told party members that he would soon tender his resignation from the Likud-led government and call for early elections.
The revelation comes less than a day after Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire deal brokered by the Egyptian government.
Liberman opposed the deal, challenging claims by the Prime Minister’s Office that the decision to adopt the ceasefire had been unanimous.
“The reports of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s supposed support for the ceasefire in Gaza are ‘fake news’,” his office claimed.
“The Defense Minister’s position is unchanged and remains the same.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) also challenged the PMO’s claims of a unanimous decision in favor of the ceasefire.
While a senior coalition official warned Wednesday morning that Liberman’s departure would likely spell the end of the government and force new elections within a matter of months, leaders of the Jewish Home party say the coalition can be maintained into 2019. The party has also pushed for Bennett to replace Liberman as Defense Minister.
Elections are currently scheduled to be held in November of 2019.
Early elections could be called, however, if the coalition loses the minimum 61-seat majority. The government currently includes 66 MKs, but will decline to a razor-thin majority of 61 if Yisrael Beytenu leaves.
Tuesday’s ceasefire agreement comes after two days of rocket attacks on southern Israel, as well as IDF retaliatory strikes on Hamas and Islamic Jihad positions across the Gaza Strip.
Some 500 rockets and mortar shells were launched from the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave towards Israel since Sunday night, following an incident in the southern Gaza Strip between an elite IDF special forces unit and a cell of Hamas terrorists. One person was killed and nearly 60 more injured in the rocket attacks.
One IDF officer was killed in the incident, and a second officer wounded. Seven Hamas terrorists, including a senior officer in Hamas’ military wing, were also killed in the battle.