Four Days Before Deadline, Israeli Election Appears Imminent as Netanyahu, Gantz Lock Horns

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Benny Gantz (L) and Benjamin Netanyahu, June 2020.
Benny Gantz (L) and Benjamin Netanyahu, June 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

With no compromise in sight between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud and Defense Minister Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan parties over the state budget, parliament could dissolve on Monday and Israel will head to its fourth election in less than two years.

Negotiations are deadlocked over a proposed bill to extend the deadline for passing a new budget, which expires on Monday. With talks stalled, Netanyahu and Gantz have not spoken in over a week.

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Speaking in a Kahol Lavan faction meeting, Gantz said that "Netanyahu might lead Israel to an awful election. Nothing justifies election and nothing has changed since we established a unity government to tackle the challenges posed by the coronavirus three months ago.

"In recent days, we’ve been holding talks with Likud out of genuine willingness to prevent another election and find a solution that would best serve the State of Israel. Our willingness to compromise is based only on the [coalition] agreement and Israel's needs," Gantz said, adding that his party will continue acting with integrity while adhering to its principles.   

Likud wants the bill, which would give the government until November to pass a budget, to include “exit points” every 10 days that allow revoking the extension, which would effectively forc a new election. Kahol Lavan opposes the proposal.

Netanyahu tours Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda Market, a popular campaign stop for political candidates.

The main dispute blocking the passing of a budget is the demand by Gantz to pass a two-year document, as stipulated in his party’s coalition agreement with Likud, while Netanyahu has been demanding that a budget be passed that only covers the remainder of 2020.

Netanyahu is expected to consult with his family over the weekend and make a final decision on the matter. It seems, however, he has already decided on an election: Since the normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE was made public last week, Netanyahu has spoken mostly about the agreement and has no longer been pushing for a one-year budget.

Tensions between Netanyahu and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn may also justify a new election, as far as Netanyahu is concerned. In discussion with Likud ministers, Netanyahu has been escalating his comments against Gantz and is talking about him using terms such as "conman" and "fraud," refusing to reiterate his commitment for the prime ministerial rotation.

According to the coalition deal signed between Likud and Kahol Lavan, Gantz would take over from Netanyahu as prime minister in late 2021, 18 months after the last election.

But some people in Likud are still warning Netanyahu against an election. They say that if he again cannot form a 61-seat majority in the Knesset after the election, then this time Gantz will be able to form a new government with the support of the Arab-majority alliance Joint List. Netanyahu believes he will be able to prevent such a scenario by running a campaign against the Joint List.

If Netanyahu does change his mind, it will be possible for the Knesset to pass the budget law postponement on Monday. The discussion of the law in the Knesset Finance Committee is supposed to be quick, and after a few hours of debate in the Knesset chamber, the law can be passed in its two final votes.

Ultra-Orthodox parties are an important factor in whether an election will be called, as they oppose dissolving the Knesset without arranging budgets for yeshivas. However, they have kept silent for the last week after a solution was found: The Knesset will pass a budget for the education system, which will include money for the Haredi parties and religious Zionist movement that is still being negotiated between Likud and religious Zionist groups.

Likud says that it will not be a problem to pass such a bill after the Knesset dissolved, because it is an emergency law intended to provide solutions for funding during the coronavirus crisis. Shas, while having spoken out a great deal of the need to avoid a new election, has remained silent this week in light of the agreement.

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