Israel's ruling coalition survives as hawkish rival gets back in line

Israel's ruling coalition survives as hawkish rival gets back in line

Israel's ruling coalition survives as hawkish rival gets back in line

Israel's prime minister has said he will also take over as defence minister and is rejecting calls to hold early elections.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said his hard-line, pro-settler Jewish Home party would give Netanyahu another chance to address the security challenges facing Israel, listing off threats from Gaza and Lebanon, among others, which he wanted dealt with more firmly.

If Bennett, whose party has eight seats in the Knesset (Israel's parliament), had withdrawn from the government, Netanyahu would have lost his single-seat majority in the assembly.

Last week, Hamas announced an Egypt-brokered ceasefire with Israel to halt escalating hostilities, which resumed after Palestinian militants launched rockets at Israel in retaliation for seven militants killed during an Israeli special forces operation.

Israel's hard-line Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who had demanded a far stronger response to the massive wave of rocket fire, resigned in protest of a cease-fire that ended the fighting.

On Sunday, Netanyahu said he had made a decision to keep the defense portfolio for himself.

Israel's Netanyahu makes 'last effort' to save government

But Netanyahu, as he indicated last week, opted for what he portrayed as a more balanced approach: focusing on the security situation while simultaneously seeking to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe for the 2 million residents of Gaza "held hostage" by Hamas.

The victory served as a reminder that Netanyahu, despite his legal trouble and his occasionally rebellious coalition partners, remains firmly in control of the Israeli political realm nearly 10 years into his premiership with not a single rival on the left or right who can challenge his leadership.

"It's better that the prime minister beats me in a political battle than (Hamas leader Ismail) Haniya beats Israel", Bennett said in a parliamentary committee room packed with journalists.

"Israel's politics is in the hands of Hamas", he said.

Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit is due to decide whether to charge the prime minister in several cases involving alleged influence-trading. We have a year left until elections.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who is a party member, was present at the conference. Flanked by Shaken, his ashen-faced party deputy, at a press conference, he listed all of his disagreements with Israeli defense policy under Netanyahu over the past decade but then abruptly stated that Netanyahu had promised a radical change in his speech the night prior. An unnamed senior government official told the Israeli media that he soon would appoint a foreign minister in an attempt to court allies. "You win some, you lose some", he said.

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