After months of acrimony within his government, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired two centrist ministers Tuesday, accusing them of plotting to topple him.
The prime minister offered a blistering attack on Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, saying they’d repeatedly criticized his policies and schemed with ultra-Orthodox parties outside the governing coalition to unseat him.
“That’s called a putsch,” Netanyahu said in nationally televised remarks. “You can’t run a government that way, and you can’t lead a country that way.”
He said he’d move to dissolve Parliament and hold elections “as soon as possible.”
“I will no longer tolerate an opposition inside the government,” Netanyahu said.
Israeli media said the elections were expected to take place in March, just two years after the current government was sworn in and two years ahead of schedule. Recent public opinion polls suggest that Netanyahu’s Likud party and its rightist allies are likely to gain enough parliamentary seats to win him a fourth term in office.
Political analysts said Netanyahu’s move indicated that he was fed up with his unruly coalition partners and preferred a more compliant government made up of his traditional rightist and ultra-Orthodox allies.
“There’s nothing ideological here. He’s really sick of being with these people, who are attacking him every other day,” said Gadi Wolfsfeld, a professor of political communications at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. “He can’t control this government.”
The collapse of the coalition followed a meeting late Monday between Netanyahu and Lapid, the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, that failed to resolve differences over government spending and a contentious bill enshrining Israel’s status as the Jewish nation-state, a proposed law that critics say would damage the standing of Israel’s Arab citizens.
Some commentators described Netanyahu’s promotion of the bill, which gave precedence to Israel’s Jewish character over its democratic principles, as an effort to rally the prime minister’s right-wing political base while precipitating a confrontation with his centrist rivals.