Netanyahu Seems to Be Set on Election, Senior Minister Says

Coalition crisis over dispute over state budget continues, which justice minister says is a way to prevent Benny Gantz from becoming prime minister in 2021

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz at a Knesset meeting in Jerusalem, June 28, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz at a Knesset meeting in Jerusalem, June 28, 2020.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apparently wants new elections, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn said Sunday amid an ongoing dispute with Likud over the state budget.

During an interview on Kan public radio, journalist Aryeh Golan said: “If we’re dragged into an election that no one wants…”

Nissenkorn, who belongs to Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party, interrupted him: “It seems that there’s one person in Likud who wants it.” Golan said: “Netanyahu,” to which Nissenkorn replied: “Yes, the burden is on Netanyahu to decide what he wants.”

Sunday’s regular cabinet meeting was cancelled amid the budget disagreements, which may lead to the dissolution of the Knesset on August 25 and to another election.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, May 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Netanyahu’s Likud wants the state budget extended for only one year, while Kahol Lavan, headed by Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, want to extend the budget for two years.

Nissenkorn said that even if an election is held, the budget would apply to 2021 as well as 2020. The only reason for the discussion, he said, is to avoid implementing the rotation agreement that would allow Gantz to take Netanyahu’s place at the end of 2021.

Gantz also spoke Sunday about the impasse regarding the budget at a ministerial meeting. “We want a budget for the state, Likud wants a political budget,” he said. “No economist supports a budget for the holidays, it’s nonsense.”

He added, "There are only two people who want elections and nine million who don’t want or need it. One wants to improve his political standing, and the other his legal and personal situation,” he said, alluding to opposition leader Yair Lapid and Netanyahu, respectively.

Kahol Lavan said Sunday's meeting was cancelled over its demand to bring to a vote a regulation regarding the balance of power between Netanyahu and Gantz, which had been agreed upon in advance.

Likud says the reason is Kahol Lavan’s refusal to advance an 8.5 billion-shekel ($2.5 billion) economic response to the coronavirus crisis.

Nissenkorn challenged Likud's statement, saying it was them who are blocking solutions to the economic crisis in Israel. “We agreed at this point to only advance legislation in the committee related to the coronavirus, but unfortunately Likud members are refusing to advance a bill that would return deposits paid by couples whose weddings were cancelled."

Meanwhile, Benny Gantz’s party is planning to present to the Knesset Wednesday preliminary form of a bill to postpone approval of the state budget by 100 days – until the beginning of December. A source in the party explained that this step was due to “time limitations that in any case do not allow full approval of the budget.” Lawmakers are expected to ask the Knesset House Committee to allow the bill to be presented in an expedited manner.

The bill is perceived as a test of Netanyahu’s intentions. “If Netanyahu opposes the bill, it’s clear he wants an election in the immediate future. This vote is intended not only to thwart the dissolution of the Knesset in two weeks, but to allow the sides to try to reach an agreement,” a source in Kahol Lavan said.

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