Netanyahu says Israel could be headed to early election

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, Dec. 1. REUTERS Photo

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, enmeshed in a cabinet crisis, said on Dec. 1 he would call an early national election unless rebellious ministers stopped attacking government policies.

The most potent of the rebels, centrist Finance Minister Yair Lapid, pushed back against Netanyahu's ultimatum after the two held a late-night meeting.

The conservative premier was "leading Israel to a needless election" because he preferred "his personal interest and survival over the public good," Lapid said in a statement.

Netanyahu's coalition, dominated by the right-wing, is split on a range of issues, including the 2015 budget, high living costs, policy towards the Palestinians and a Jewish nation-state bill that critics say discriminates against Israel's Arab minority.

The divisions have prompted speculation that Netanyahu will bring forward an election that is not scheduled until 2017.

In public remarks to members of his Likud party, Netanyahu gave his strongest indication yet that an early ballot could be in the offing.

"I have not enjoyed the fulfillment of even the most fundamental obligation - the loyalty and responsibility of ministers to the government in which they serve," he said.

"I demand these ministers stop their undermining, stop the attacks," Netanyahu added.

"I demand that they close ranks behind the proper policy for leading the nation, for its security, economy and lowering the cost of living, in every aspect. If they agree to do so, we can continue to work together. If they refuse, we will draw conclusions, and go to the voters."

Lapid, who has been sparring with the prime minister over the 2015 state budget, said he would not back down. Netanyahu was due to...

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