Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Saturday that he stands by the unity government despite recent political tensions, but he can understand the public's "hatred" toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and "disappointment" in him.
Speaking on Channel 12's "Meet the Press," Gantz said he believes the unity government is necessary, saying that his Kahol Lavan party has been instrumental in the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis. Citing the public health crisis, economic situation and recent security threats, Gantz said, "I don't regret for one second that I entered this government. I want what's best for the State of Israel."
Gantz vowed not to back down in talks on the 2020 budget as the August 25 deadline fast approaches. The approval process was ground to a halt amid political squabbling between Netanyahu and Gantz.
Netanyahu is seeking to approve a one year budget, while Gantz is seeking to push through a two year budget – as agreed upon in the coalition agreement. If no state budget is approved by August 25, the Knesset will be dissolved.
"In order to stabilize the economy, Israel needs a budgest for 2021," Gantz said. If a budget cannot be agreed upon, Israel may be forced into another election – the fourth in about two years.
Gantz said he is not seeking another election: "Nine million Israeli citizens don't want an election, maybe Netanyahu and [Yair] Lapid want an election," Gantz said referring to the head of the opposition and his former running mate, Yair Lapid. "Israel needs economic and political stability," Gantz added.
Calls for another election, Gantz said, are a mistake. " I suppose [Netanyahu] has his personal and political reasons" for pushing for an election, Gantz said, hinting at the prime minister's ongoing corruption trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
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Regarding polls that show his party losing about half of its Knesset seats if another election were held, Gantz said, "I'm aware of the political price I've paid [for joining a Netanyahu-led government.]" Gantz added, "I can understand the hatred towards Netanyahu and the disappointment in me."
If another election is held, Gantz said he would continue leading Kahol Lavan. He added that he cannot see his former political ally Yair Lapid leading the country, despite the latter's recent success in the polls.
Gantz also addressed the recent explosion in Beirut, calling the incident "a disaster" and saying that "Israel should be ready to offer humanitarian aid at this difficult time." Gantz added that "Hezbollah is the biggest threat to Lebanon."
Later Saturday, two ministers from Gantz's party, Pnina Tamano-Shata and Omer Yankelevich, denied having met with Netanyahu to discuss an alternative coalition. Their statements came after Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu had met with a female minister from Kahol Lavan in an attempt to convince her to defect from Gantz's party and join Likud.