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Israel's Netanyahu Fires Ministers, Calls For Early Election

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired two senior Cabinet ministers on Tuesday and called for early elections that could be held early next year.

With his coalition government splintering, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sacked two senior Cabinet ministers, said parliament should be dissolved and called for early elections.

The Israeli media reported that new elections could be held as early as March.

Netanyahu has been prime minister for the past five years — an extremely long tenure in a country marked by fractious politics and unstable coalition governments. He has more than two years left in his current term before new elections are required in 2017.

However, his five-party coalition, made up mostly of conservatives, had become increasingly unwieldy and could not carry on given the current divisions.

In a televised speech Tuesday, the prime minister said, "I turn to you, the citizens of Israel, this evening because under the current situation, from within the current government, it is impossible to lead a state."

The prime minister added: "Swift elections must be held, and a new, united and strong government must be formed."

Before the speech, Netanyahu dismissed Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. Both are political centrists who have been openly critical of the prime minister.

"I will not tolerate any opposition in my government," Netanyahu said.

Israelis have been waging a heated debate in recent weeks over a controversial "Jewish nation-state" law. Supporters say it would codify and strengthen the Jewish character of Israel, while critics argue that it will weaken the country's democracy and could harm minorities.

As NPR Jerusalem correspondent Emily Harris told Morning Edition:

"The main point in Netanyahu's proposal is that while individuals retain their individual rights, only Jewish people have the right to national self-determination in Israel. This means things like the state valuing and preserving the heritage of Jewish residents, not others. Muslims, or Christians, or Arab speakers, would not have collective, community rights on the national level."

Netanyahu's coalition has run into sharp differences on issues that range from economic policy to housing bills.

In addition, Israel's relations with the United States, Israel's most important ally, have been rocky. Peace talks with the Palestinians collapsed earlier this year and Israel fought with Hamas in the the Gaza Strip for seven weeks this summer.

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