Last-ditch Effort to Avoid Election Fails After Three Kahol Lavan Lawmakers Break Ranks

Knesset votes down bill that would postpone deadline for passing budget, bringing Israel closer to its fourth election in two years

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Netanyahu and Gantz in Ramle, November 27, 2020
Netanyahu and Gantz in Ramle, November 27, 2020Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Knesset voted down a bill late Monday that would have postponed a Tuesday-night deadline to approve Israel's 2020 state budget, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan chief Benny Gantz failed to reach a compromise to avert what would be Israel's fourth election in two years. Given the bill's defeat, the Knesset is expected to dissolve at the end of the day on Tuesday, absent a last-minute surprise deal.

Forty-seven lawmakers voted in favor of the bill, while 49 voted against it and 24 did not vote. Three Kahol Lavan lawmakers – Miki Haimovich, Asaf Zamir and Ram Shefa – broke ranks and voted against the bill, while the rest of the party's members were absent. One member of Likud, Michal Shir Segman, who is expected to join Gideon Sa'ar's new party, also broke ranks with her party to vote against the bill.

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The vote, which would have been the first of three, dragged into the night as the government worked to ensure it got a majority.

Gantz said Monday he presented Netanyahu with five demands in last-ditch negotiation and told party colleagues that if Netanyahu and his Likud party rejected his demands, "we will go to an election."

Gantz's demands include passing a state budget for 2020 and 2021, filling all vacant senior positions, keeping Avi Nissenkorn as justice minister and receiving guarantees that the rotation of the premiership will be carried out.

But Likud rejected Gantz’s point on Nissenkorn, whom the party claims is leading “a judicial revolution that goes against the coalition agreement." Netanyahu later confirmed this position, saying "we can't let the left trample over our democracy."

On Saturday night Gantz had essentially agreed to all Likud’s terms, after the mediators on his behalf, Haim Ramon and Hod Betzer, reached agreements with Likud negotiator Yaakov Atrakchi.

But when word about the agreement got out, it was harshly criticized by Nissenkorn, who said Gantz was having “a panic attack.” Nissenkorn managed to persuade several Kahol Lavan legislators to oppose the deal, pressuring Gantz to give up on further negotiations with Likud.

When Gantz realized the depth of the crisis he was in, he phoned Netanyahu to tell him he would not allow any changes to the legal system.

Gantz has apparently lost most of his Kahol Lavan legislators. He and Nissenkorn had previously been allies, with Nissenkorn managing the political operations about which Gantz had little experience. But Betzer, Gantz’s right-hand man, managed to persuade Gantz that the justice minister was a problem and the two wouldn't be able to run together in the next election. It also seems that Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi is losing interest in the constant quarreling within the party.

Earlier Monday, the Knesset House Committee approved the bill to postpone the budget deadline, in an effort to prevent the parliament from dissolving automatically as Tuesday ends at midnight.

The bill would have postponed the last date for approving the 2020 budget to December 31. This would allow Likud and Kahol Lavan to continue negotiating until they found a compromise.

The bill was not sponsored by specific lawmakers or a government ministry but by the House Committee itself, which is controlled by Kahol Lavan.

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