Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Tuesday his party will vote in favor of an opposition-backed bill to dissolve the Knesset, which would come for a preliminary vote on Wednesday, as he continued to butt heads with coalition partner Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In a statement to the press, Gantz said Netanyahu was the one who led to what would be Israel's fourth election in two years. "Netanyahu has decided to dissolve the government and drag Israel into an election" by refusing to pass a two-year budget as laid out in the parties’ coalition agreement, Gantz stated.
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He added, however, that if the prime minister is willing to pass a budget before a December 23 deadline, an election could still be avoided.
Gantz argued that the public was paying for Netanyahu's failure to fulfill his campaign promises. "I wasn't the one misled by him, but rather the Israeli public," Gantz said. "All of this is happening for a single reason… Netanyahu is only working to save himself from his trial."
The defense minister said he had agreed to a unity coalition with Netanyahu “with a heavy heart,” but chose to do so because of the coronavirus crisis. “I had no illusions about Netanyahu,” he said. “I thought Netanyahu would rise to the occasion ... It didn’t happen.”
He also accused Netanyahu of turning the coronavirus pandemic “into a personal campaign of self-aggrandizement.”
Earlier on Tuesday, two cabinet ministers from the Labor Party, Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli, announced that they will also back the bill in Wedenesday's preliminary vote.
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The coalition has yet to reach a compromise over the state budget, which is the central disagreement between Gantz's Kahol Lavan and Netanyahu's Likud parties.
Other issues of contention include Gantz's decision to open a commission of inquiry into the so called submarine affair, as well as ongoing accusations of deceit and political machinations from both Kahol Lavan and Likud on a range of issues.
In a video statement moments before Gantz gave his statement to the press, Netanyahu cited “political and secutrity challenges” Israel is facing, including the coronavirus crisis and normalization with Arab countries, and said: “It’s time for unity.”
“As I’ve been saying for a long while, this is not the time for election,” said Netanyahu.
The prime minister said members of Kahol Lavan “are being dragged” by Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Yamina’s Naftali Bennett, who “don’t care that we’re going to an election in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic,” said the prime minister.
“Benny, what needs to be done now is to take a U-turn from politics for the benefit of the citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu added.
Israel has been without an approved budget since the beginning of the year.
Kahol Lavan is backing a biannual budget for 2020 and 2021, while Likud is insisting on an annual budget for 2020. The deadline for Knesset approval of the budget is December 23, and the Knesset will be automatically dissolved if lawmakers fail to pass the budget by that date.
Kahol Lavan members urged Gantz to vote with the opposition on this motion, which would require several additional votes before actually ending the Knesset's term and leading to a new election.
Netanyahu said Tuesday that Likud would vote against the bill.
The Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties said earlier Tuesday that it was "cautious" about announcing its stance on the matter, adding that as a result of internal disagreements, the slate is in no hurry to reveal how it intends to vote.
One of its factions, the United Arab List, has reportedly grown close to Netanyahu's Likud, while the other three factions remain vehemently opposed to it and reject any cooperation with the prime minister.