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Can Israel Avoid Its Fourth Election Cycle in Two Years by Tuesday’s Deadline?

The government is unlikely to pass its 2020 budget in time, and no one knows whether Netanyahu and Gantz can get the Knesset majority to postpone the deadline. So what's next?

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz in the Knesset, May 17, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz in the Knesset, May 17, 2020.Credit: Adina Valman / Knesset

UPDATE: Plan to delay Israeli election hits obstacle as third lawmaker enters COVID isolation

As the law stands now, the Knesset will dissolve automatically Tuesday night at midnight unless it has passed the 2020 budget in all three required votes by then. And since the government hasn’t even begun legislating the budget, that isn’t going to happen.

Consequently, Likud and Kahol Lavan have been exploring ways to postpone the deadline, and also to amend their coalition agreement in line with understandings now being reached behind the scenes. But it’s not yet clear whether the two parties’ leaders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, will be able to muster the necessary Knesset majority for this to happen.

How can the Knesset’s dissolution Tuesday night be prevented?

In the absence of clear understandings on the future of their governing coalition, Likud and Kahol Lavan have been discussing a few different options to postpone the Knesset’s dissolution. But not all of them are legally feasible.

The most efficient method, for both parties, would be to have the Knesset vote to postpone the deadline for approving the budget by several weeks. This would be similar to what it did in August: A moment before the Knesset was due to dissolve because the deadline for passing the budget hadn’t been met, it hastily approved a bill by MK Zvi Hauser to postpone the deadline for 120 days.

Any such postponement now would be for somewhere between a few weeks and a few months, depending on what the parties agree on. The postponement would have to be approved by at least 61 of the Knesset’s 120 MKs, and as of now, securing that majority seems doable.

Another option is to quickly pass a law stating that the Knesset needn’t dissolve because the budget hasn’t been passed. Under current law, the Knesset dissolves automatically if the budget isn’t passed by the legal deadline.

What happens if the deadline for approving the budget is postponed?

Finding 61 MKs to approve the postponement would be only the first hurdle for Gantz and Netanyahu. If they failed to reach an agreement that enabled the budget’s passage by the new deadline, the Knesset would still dissolve automatically and elections would be held 90 days later.

If they did reach an agreement, however, they would need to find at least 70 MKs to vote for enacting its provisions as an amendment to the Basic Law on Government. And it’s not clear those 70 votes exist.

MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser in the Knesset, April 20, 2019. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Now that Kahol Lavan has expelled MKs Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, the coalition currently numbers exactly 70 MKs. Netanyahu might also be able to recruit three or four MKs from the United Arab List, a faction of the Arab parties’ Joint List, since the UAL hasn’t ruled out cooperating with him. But other MKs from both Likud and Kahol Lavan may well refuse to support the amendments, thereby effectively toppling the government.

Quite a few Kahol Lavan MKs have voiced discomfort over the talks with Netanyahu. Thus it’s not clear how Avi Nissenkorn, Miki Haimovich, Asaf Zamir and others will vote at the moment of truth.

Gideon Sa’ar, who would like the Knesset to dissolve as soon as possible, will likely use his influence over at least three Likud MKs to persuade them to vote again the amendments, first and foremost Yifat Shasha-Biton, who has already announced that she is leaving Likud to join his new party. Hauser and Hendel have also made it clear that they won’t do anything to extend the current government’s life.

In this situation, where every vote counts, the coronavirus may also undermine the governing coalition’s fragile majority, since some MKs could be in quarantine on the day of the vote. Right now, for instance, two coalition MKs – David Bitan and Yakov Asher – are recovering from the virus and therefore can’t participate in votes.