'Election Would Mean Civil War': Netanyahu, Gantz Clash Over Budget as Deadline Nears

Gantz says bill to delay budget deadline could be fully approved in 24 hours while Netanyahu says one-year budget already ready

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, August 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, August 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Defense Minister Benny Gantz called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday to approve a bill within 24 hours delaying the deadline for the state budget, as a dispute between the coalition partners and mutual accusations of dragging the country to yet another election continue. 

Gantz’s party said that if the bill was not fully passed on Tuesday, it would be pointless to consider other proposals in the future.

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Likud does not plan to agree to the demand, viewing members’ backing of the bill in a preliminary vote is a gesture of goodwill and not having decided on their position. Members also do not wish to appear as though their hands were forced by the other party. 

“The citizens of Israel have had their fill of political tricks for which they – and only they – pay the price,” Gantz said at a meeting of his Kahol Lavan party, where he called called on Netanyahu to agree to an extension of the coalition’s deadline for a state budget by 100 days in a bid to avoid another election – which would be the country’s fourth in less than two years.

Responding to Gantz’s call for him to agree to a 100-day extension, Netanyahu said at a meeting of his Likud party, “We don’t need 24 hours or even minutes. We have a one-year budget prepared.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference, August 2020.Credit: Tal Shahar

If a budget is not approved by August 24, 100 days after the current government took office, the Knesset will dissolve and Israel will head to an election.

The main dispute blocking the passing of a 2020 budget is the demand by Gantz to pass a two-year document, as stipulated in his party’s coalition agreement with Netanyahu’s Likud.

In contrast, Netanyahu is determined to pass a one-year budget, which would leave him the option of calling an election next June if the next budget, for 2021, isn’t passed in the spring, before Gantz is supposed to take over as prime minister according to the coalition agreement. In such a situation, according to the agreement, Netanyahu would remain as prime minister in a caretaker government.

Likud and Kahol Lavan said on Sunday that they would back the bill for the extension that was proposed by lawmaker Zvi Hauser, but a Likud source later said the party would vote in favor in a preliminary vote and a first vote, but wouldn't commit to backing the bill in the following two votes it must pass before becoming law.

Officials in ultra-Orthodox parties are considering their next steps. Interior Minister and Shas Chairman Arye Dery believes that after a preliminary and first vote, he will convince Netanyahu to move forward.

United Torah Judaism, one of whose members, Moshe Gafni, chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, said in a statement that a budget proposal must be put forward immediately and that its members would reconvene to discuss how they should vote on Wednesday. 

In his remarks on Monday, Gantz asked Netanyahu to “pass a government decision this evening and give real validity to your promise last night – to discuss and approve the state budget within 100 days of today ... We can complete the process within 24 hours: The government will approve a government bill this evening to amend the deadline for presenting the budget, the Knesset will pass it and within 24 hours, with no dirty tricks, the bill will be approved in a second and third reading, too.”

Gantz further said that yet another election would cause “civil war” rather than unity, adding that it would deepen distrust and friction. 

Speaking at a local government conference, Netanyahu said that the budget his party was proposing was “adapted for the coronavirus [crisis], exactly what the citizens of Israel need. It will inject money and it can be done immediately.

Earlier, Netanyahu said that the government had to “be stabilized” to operate efficiently and that “every effort must be made to avoid an election.” He said regarding the proposal to extend the deadline that  Hauser had approached him and asked him to consider it “to try and stabilize the political system so we have a government working to battle the coronavirus. I told him, I am ready.”

Aaron Rabinowitz contributed to this report.