Will Netanyahu Fold? Is Israel Headed for Fourth Election? All the Scenarios

Two weeks before budget deadline, Netanyahu and Gantz are playing the blame game

Chaim Levinson
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An election campaign banner, showing Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu, being erected in Ramat Gan in February.
Deja vu? An election campaign banner, showing Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu, being erected in Ramat Gan in February. Credit: Jack Guez/ AFP
Chaim Levinson

After a day of mutual accusations and verbal clashes between legislators from Likud and Kahol Lavan, and with two weeks to go before the current deadline to pass the 2020 state budget, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears determined to move forward toward elections. Over the weekend, Likud planned to attribute the cancellation of the weekly cabinet meeting to “a dispute with Kahol Lavan,” in an effort to paint Benny Gantz's party as the one that is not addressing the coronavirus crisis properly.

It's too early to say whether Sunday's announcement that Likud will support a bill extending the deadline to pass the 2020 budget will stabilize the situation. 

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Instead of Sunday's cabinet meeting, there was a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet and the brawl took place there. After an argument between Economy Minister Amir Peretz and Finance Minister Yisrael Katz, Defense Minister Gantz raised his voice and said, “From day one you are simply not fulfilling the [coalition] agreements. You signed an agreement for a two-year budget. How do you sign agreements and then work on a single-year budget? From the start, you were working on a single-year budget.”

Netanyahu cynically responded, “I don’t hear you.” Both Transportation Minister Miri Regev and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn appeared on television news shows and hurled accusations at each other.

Currently, the date for the dissolution of the Knesset is midnight between August 24 and 25 if no budget for 2020 is passed. During the coming two weeks, there are four possible scenarios:

* Extending the time allotted for passing the budget. The Derech Eretz party of Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser announced that it would submit such a bill. Because it would be an amendment to a Basic Law, it would need a majority of 61 MKs to pass it. In theory, this bill favors Kahol Lavan and is bad for Netanyahu. As time passes, there is less and less “economic” justification for passing a budget just for what remains of 2020.

On Sunday, Derech Eretz announced that Netanyahu has agreed to support moving the bill forward, including a preliminary vote on the legislation on Wednesday .But according to a party source, support for the bill is designed to provide constitutional and political options and should not be taken as an indication that Likud would support extending the budget deadline in the final two Knesset votes on such legislation. Kahol Lavan sources expressed support for the Derech Eretz bill, but the chances of the bill passing without the agreement of both Likud and Kahol Lavan are slim.

* A narrow right-wing government. Likud has been floating the notion that they are negotiating with two or three potential defectors from Kahol Lavan who will leave that party, join Netanyahu and help set up a narrow government. The Israel Hayom newspaper even published a story praising the purported defectors, saying that although they would be hanged on Twitter, they would be saving the homeland. But Likud doesn’t really have an interest in such a government. Under the new no-confidence rules, a list of cabinet members is submitted to the Knesset, and if it gets a majority, it is sworn in as the new government.

But the law also states that neither Netanyahu nor Gantz can head a government that is sworn in as a result of such a no-confidence vote. For Netanyahu to head a government of 61, someone else from Likud would have to be sworn in as prime minister, a monkey, if you will, after which that government would have to be immediately voted out in a new no-confidence vote, and then Netanyahu can replace the placeholder prime minister. There’s no chance that Netanyahu will depart the Prime Minister's Residence, leaving his fate for even a few hours in the hands of Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, Michal Shir and Gideon Sa’ar. He won’t risk that.

* Gantz will fold. If a month ago, there was a chance of a compromise, now Gantz has no interest in that. He’s sick of Netanyahu. Two months late, he realizes that you can hang Netanyahu’s promises on the wall, but that’s all they’re good for. He thinks Netanyahu is en route to elections, so there is no point in discussing the budget because that’s not the real issue. Even if Gantz folds on the budget, it isn’t clear how Netanyahu will react, and what new artificial crisis he may initiate.

* Netanyahu backtracks. Netanyahu is the one pushing for elections and he’s the one who can walk it back, agreeing to a two-year budget and continue on as if the crisis never happened. At the moment, however, Netanyahu seems determined to go to elections.

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