'Odds of Averting Another Israeli Election Are 50/50, Will Be Decided on Sunday'

Negotiations to stop Knesset from dissolving are centered around the powers of the Justice Ministry and whether to grant Netanyahu's party veto on its decisions

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
Netanyahu and Gantz in June 2020.
Netanyahu and Gantz in June 2020.Credit: Ariel Schalit/AFP
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Negotiations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan aimed at preventing the dissolution of the Knesset are set to continue on Saturday night.

If the 2021 state budget is not approved by Tuesday at midnight, the parliament will automatically dissolve and an early election will be held within three months -- Israel's fourth election in less than two years.

A meeting (perhaps 'critical', perhaps not) is scheduled to take place at Gantz's home, with the participation of Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn. The meeting will also be attended by Gantz's mediator, Haim Ramon.

Gantz’s choice of Ramon to serve as his envoy for negotiations with the lawyer and real estate entrepreneur Yaakov Atrakchi, who represents Likud, has provoked sharp criticism within Kahol Lavan. Nissenkorn was not at all informed in advance by Gantz, despite the fact that one of the main issues being contested by the two parties is Nissenkorn’s powers as Justice Minister.

Ramon is known as a fierce opponent of the State Attorney's Office and the Supreme Court (and even claims that a sexual harassment case against him was drummed up just for him.) Ramon also advocates for far-reaching reforms in the legal system, an initiative that Nissenkorn certainly opposes to the extent that Harmon has in mind.

Earlier on Saturday, senior officials within Kahol Lavan said the odds of an election are 50/50, and that the final deadline for reaching an agreement - or imploding it all - is Sunday. Any agreement reached by the parties will require legislation in the Knesset, and the remaining time is very limited.

It is also unclear whether a majority exists among the current coalition: three Likud lawmakers, and two in New Hope (hereinafter: Gideon Sa’ar's party), will not support any postponement.

There is also a small group in Kahol Lavan, comprised of about four or five lawmakers, who will oppose a compromise that will keep Netanyahu in power while not anchoring the rotation of the premiership in the agreement and cutting Nissenkorn's powers.

In any case, the Justice Minister’s Office made it clear on Friday that he has no intention of giving up, and that he will not be willingly stymied by granting the Likud a veto on his decisions.

If such a decision is nevertheless made, contrary to his view, Nissenkorn may resign and split the party in the Knesset.

According to an idea discussed over the weekend, Nissenkorn will be required to propose three state attorney candidates for government approval, and not just the person he planned to propose, attorney Amit Isman, the Haifa District Attorney. This will also be discussed at the meeting on Saturday night.

Gantz claims, at least out loud, that he will not allow a change in the coalition agreement - and the law enacted as a result - under which rotation of the premiership will begin on November 17, 2021. Sources at the top of Kahol Lavan said Friday night that they will insist on closing the loophole in the law, which would allow Netanyahu to break into early elections if either the 2020 or 2021 budget do not pass by the deadline and stay on as prime minister of a caretaker government.

The chances that Netanyahu will agree to this, and actually give Gantz the rotation (assuming he does not violate the agreement again), are not great. Kahol Lavan also acknowledges this. However, the party leaders believe that Netanyahu's fear of going to the polls now, in light of Sa’ar's rise in the polls, may lead him to make a decision in this spirit.

How COVID – and Israel’s Trump-brokered lovefest with Arab states – are affecting PalestiniansCredit: Haaretz

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