Gantz Pressured to Back Early Election as Netanyahu Stalls on State Budget

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Benny Gantz (L) and Benjamin Netanyahu during a cabinet meeting, Jerusalem, July 5, 2020.
Benny Gantz (L) and Benjamin Netanyahu during a cabinet meeting, Jerusalem, July 5, 2020.Credit: Amit Shabi

Lawmakers from Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz's party, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's main coalition partner, are pressuring him to back an opposition bill to dissolve the Knesset on Wednesday as the December 23 deadline to pass the state budget for 2020 nears.  

Kahol Lavan lawmakers want to send a message to Netanyahu that Gantz's party is serious about demanding the budget’s prompt passage and will not hesitate to disband the government.

Science Minister Yizhar Shai, a member of Kahol Lavan, said Sunday morning that the chances are fairly high that his party members would vote on Wednesday in favor of a bill to dissolve the Knesset “if nothing changes.”

Speaking in an interview with Army Radio, Shai said that “we need to see the political developments in the coming days.”   

Shai added that he does not think that election are “the right thing for the State of Israel.

“Elections will not lead to a better decision than in the last three elections. Therefore, politicians on both sides - from Likud and Kahol Lavan - should try to find the solution to the crisis in the form of a functioning government.”

Nonetheless, Kahol Lavan lawmakers believe Netanyahu will try to extract concessions in exchange for the budget’s passage – either cancelation of the prime ministerial rotation deal with Gantz next year or the ouster of Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn. 

Netanyahu, Gantz, and Finance Minister Yisrael Katz are due to meet early this week, and Katz is expected to present the 2020 budget. If it is not passed by December 23, the Knesset will be disbanded automatically, and Israel would go into another round of election.

Likud would like to move quickly to pass the 2020 budget by December 23, but postpone the 2021 budget vote to March. Gantz, however, wants both budgets passed within the next month, and plans to demand an accelerated timetable.

On Thursday, Netanyahu said that elections will be brought forward if Kahol Lavan did not change its approach and start cooperating, “instead of running a government from within government.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a joint visit with PM Benjamin Netanyahu to the Israeli Home Front Command coronavirus center, September 7, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

“If not, I think everyone understands that this unfortunately leads to elections," he said. "I would have preferred for us to be united.”

Sources close to Netanyahu also said this weekend that the prime minister isn’t enthusiastic about calling elections right now, concerned that Bennett has stabilized at about 20 seats in the polls despite Likud’s efforts to undermine him. Netanyahu claims that Bennett, like Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman, is more interested in ousting him as prime minister than in forming a right-wing government. 

New elections must be called at least three months before they are held, and some Netanyahu advisers think this March would be a perfect time: The opposition is bitterly divided and the first coronavirus vaccines are slated to arrive in February, which Netanyahu will likely present as a personal achievement attributable to his international connections.

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