As Deadline Nears, Israel's President Warns Heading to Election Would Be 'Inconceivable'

Netanyahu tells Gantz he seeks to solve crisis 'today,' after Rivlin says what might be Israel's fourth in less than two years would undermine the public’s faith in elected officials

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and President Reuven Rivlin meet at the President's Residence, Jerusalem, August 17, 2020
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and President Reuven Rivlin meet at the President's Residence, Jerusalem, August 17, 2020Credit: Kobi Gideon/ GPO

President Reuven Rivlin said on Thursday that he has consulted with the leaders of the parties in the government coalition in an effort to head off the automatic dissolution of the Knesset at the end of the day Monday, if a budget is not passed by then. If the deadline is missed, a fourth round of elections in less than two years would follow.

A statement from Rivlin’s office said he told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and other party leaders that “it is inconceivable for the issue of the approval of the budget to lead us to a fourth election.”

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The main stumbling block to the passage of a budget is Gantz’s demand for a two-year budget covering 2020 and 2021, as stipulated in his party’s coalition agreement with Likud. Netanyahu has been demanding a budget that only covers the remainder of 2020, which he has said is preferable amid the uncertainties caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite “the importance of honoring agreements,” the coalition leaders need to show flexibility to get the budget passed, Rivlin said. So far, however, no compromise has been reached between Gantz's Kahol Lavan and Netanyahu's Likud.

Netanyhau said in a statement on Thursday he spoke with Gantz and "urged him to make an effort" to prevent another election. "The citizens of Israel need a functioning government," Netayahu was quoted as telling Gantz. "If you accept [my] compromise we can stop the election. Let's do everything we can to solve it today."

Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz holds a meeting in his office, Jerusalem, August 19, 2020 Credit: Oded Karni

This was the first time the two leaders spoke in more than a week.

Rivlin said he also spoke to the heads of two other parties in the coalition, United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni and Arye Dery of Shas.

The president said he had warned the heads of the coalition parties that “the public’s confidence in its elected officials would reach a serious low point if there were another election” and added that “after three elections in less than a year, we, the citizens, feel cheated and fearful. If we are forced to go [to elections], we must ensure utmost transparency, so that voters understand the reasons why. We must not let a budget be the reason.” No 2020 budget was passed due to the political deadlock after two inconclusive elections last year.

For his part, Gantz told reporters on Thursday that “it would be very serious if the country is dragged into an election,” and said he was doing his utmost to prevent it. “There is not a single reason from a national standpoint to hold another election,” he said, adding that he hopes there are “other determined people like me” to prevent another election. Gantz’s party colleague, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, told Army Radio on Thursday that, when it comes to the budget, Kahol Lavan believes it is important to provide for the long term, through next year.

Sources close to Netanyahu said he is expected to consult over the weekend with his family before making a final decision on how to proceed. If opinion polls show him losing a substantial number of Knesset seats in a fourth round, that might dissuade him from a new election, but he has expressed frustration over the current government with Kahol Lavan and appears inclined at the moment to proceed ahead to elections

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