As Israel's Coalition Crisis Worsens, Weekly Cabinet Session Put on Hold

Parties trade barbs while Gantz seeks to block Netanyahu from pushing through one-year budget despite coalition deal calling for two-year budget

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Benny Gantz (L) and Benjamin Netanyahu at cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, July 5, 2020.
Benny Gantz (L) and Benjamin Netanyahu at cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, July 5, 2020. Credit: Gali Tibbon/Pool via REUTERS
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

A clash between Kahol Lavan and Likud has led to the cancellation of the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, as coalition sources said no further progress had been made on the budget, which may lead to the Knesset’s dissolution on August 25 and another general election.

Likud announced late Saturday that the the meeting would not be held, citing "Kahol Lavan's refusal" to discuss Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coronavirus financial aid proposal.

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Kahol Lavan said in response that the meeting was called off because Netanyahu's party "insists on not abiding by the coalition agreement... any other excuse is a total lie."

A dispute over several of the topics to be discussed in the meeting prevented the agenda from being set 48 hours before, as required. 

According to sources in Kahol Lavan, led by Benny Gantz, the dispute revolved around the party’s wish to bring to a vote an updated version of the rules regulating government operations. This version, hammered out with Likud, addresses the balance of power between  Netanyahu and his partner in the unity government, Gantz.

The rules serving the cabinet have not been updated since the last government was in office and give the incumbent priority; for example, in issues pertaining to disputes between cabinet members and in determining the agenda for extraordinary cabinet meetings.

Kahol Lavan has brought up these rules in part to try to block Netanyahu from pushing through a one-year budget, in contrast to agreements reached between the two parties.

Gantz said Saturday that he has no intention of compromising over the two-year budget that was agreed on.

“You need a budget for a whole year, not for the holidays or for a week,” Gantz said in an interview with Channel 12’s “Meet the Press,” referring to the fall Jewish holidays.

“We insist on this. The prime minister may want an election, Lapid may want it, but I don’t. I won’t yield,” he added, referring to opposition leader and former political partner Yair Lapid.

Gantz added: “I understand the hatred felt toward Netanyahu. I understand that people are disappointed with me. The country needs political and economic stability. Nothing will happen that is not included in the coalition agreement. I didn’t come here to work for Bibi. If we don’t insist on abiding by the agreement, things will fall apart.”

Regarding cooperation with the prime minister, Gantz said: “My relations with Netanyahu are good. It’s clear what divides us. These are unpleasant issues.”

On Wednesday, Kahol Lavan intends to bring to a preliminary vote a proposal to postpone the ratification of a budget to early December, because, according to a party source, there is no time to approve a budget by August 24, the current deadline.

This bill was brought forward by MK Zvi Hauser of Derech Eretz, who intends to ask the Knesset House Committee to bypass one step in the process of approving the budget. This would shorten the time required for finishing the process and allow the preliminary vote to take place Wednesday.

Kahol Lavan see this as a test of Netanyahu’s intentions. “If Netanyahu opposes this bill, it’s obvious that he wants an election held as soon as possible,” said a source in Kahol Lavan.

“This proposal is meant to foil the dissolution of the Knesset in two weeks, allowing the two sides to reach an agreement. It allows each side to stick to its positions.”

If Netanyahu opposes this move, Kahol Lavan officials said they would try to recruit coalition and opposition parties to turn the tables on Netanyahu.

“No one except Netanyahu wants an election. [Yamina leader Naftali] Bennett and Yair Lapid, who are doing well in the polls, have already declared that we can’t have an election at this juncture,” said a supporter of the move. “If all the parties unite against an election and in support of this bill, they can impose on Netanyahu three more months of trying to put together a budget,” said a supporter of this move.

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and current opposition leader Yair Lapid laugh together in Knesset, July 5, 2014. The two politicians are currently doing well in polls.
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and current opposition leader Yair Lapid laugh together in Knesset, July 5, 2014. The two politicians are currently doing well in polls.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Strategic Affairs Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen of Kahol Lavan suggested that her party should consider staying in the coalition.

“When I supported joining the coalition after three straight general elections, I had in mind the unity government of 1984, which came together after the inflation crisis that roiled Israel and sent it into a tailspin, against the backdrop of the Lebanon war.”

She tweeted that “if our partners can’t make the public interest their top priority, as we agreed on, we should rethink our path.”

Another initiative circulating in the opposition and coalition calls on Gantz to push a bill that would prevent an indicted politician from forming a governing coalition, targeting Netanyahu.

The left-wing Meretz party supports such a bill. “I call on Kahol Lavan to join an initiative that enjoys a majority in the Knesset and pass a law that would not allow someone accused of a crime from forming a government after the next election,” said Meretz’s floor leader, Tamar Zandberg.

Meanwhile, a new election poll shows a surge for Yamina that could bring the bloc of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties to a ruling majority, continuing a trend seen in recent polls.

The poll released Friday by Channel 12 News showed Yamina, the pro-settler party headed by Bennett, with 16 seats – more than doubling its current seven seats. This followed polls released last week showing Yamina with 19 seats, according to a Channel 13 poll, and 15, according to one by the Kan public broadcaster.

Channel 12’s poll showed Netanyahu’s Likud party with 31 seats, significantly leading Lapid’s Yesh Atid, which would be the second-largest party with 18 seats. These numbers are similar to those in the other polls last week, with Channel 13 showing Likud with 29 seats and Yesh Atid with 19, and Kan showing Likud with 30 seats and Yesh Atid at 17.

Channel 12’s poll projected the Joint List alliance of Arab parties as the third-largest party with 15 seats, with Gantz’s Kahol Lavan crashing to 11 seats, and Shas and United Torah Judaism each having eight seats. Yisrael Beiteinu, headed by Avigdor Lieberman, was predicted at seven seats, and Meretz at six, with the once powerful Labor Party failing to pass the electoral threshold. 

Channel 12’s poll, conducted by Mano Geva of Midgam, surveyed a representative sample of 512 Israeli citizens. It has a sampling error of 4.4 percent.

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