Netanyahu Warns Israeli Election Imminent if Gantz Doesn't Change Approach

Prime minister says partnership in danger amid budget impasse and anger over Gantz's decision to open commission of inquiry into corruption affair

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Benny Gantz (L) and Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, June 2020.
Benny Gantz (L) and Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, June 2020.Credit: Adina Valman / Knesset

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that if his main coalition partner, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, doesn't change his approach, the country will hold an election – which would be the fourth in two years.

Netanyahu's Likud and Gantz's Kahol Lavan parties have been at loggerheads over a number of issues, including passage of a state budget and Gantz's decision to open a commission of inquiry into accusations of misconduct in the government's purchase of naval vessels from Germany.

"If we see a different approach from Kahol Lavan and cooperation instead of a government within a government, we will be able to continue to work together," Netanyahu said at a welcome reception for the first commercial flight from Dubai to Israel. "If not, I think everyone understands that this will lead, unfortunately, to an election. I would prefer for us to be united."

Likud later said in a statement "The prime minister sees no reason to go to election," arguing that if an election is called, it would be Kahol Lavan's fault.

Kahol Lavan responded with a scathing criticism of Netanyahu, writing on Twitter: "The one violating agreements, halting appointments and precents the state budget out of political and personal motives for months is Benjamin Netanyahu. It's no coincidence that in every poll, an overwhelming majority of the public blames Netanyahu for the expected calling of an election – because it's true. If there were no trial, we would have a budget."

Science and Technology Minister Yizhar Shai and Culture and Sports Minister Hili Tropper of Kahol Lavan said Thursday that they may vote in favor of the bill to dissolve the Knesset on Wednesday. The two ministers blamed the move on the conduct of the Likud party and its leader, Netanyahu, and his refusal to approve a state budget.

Tropper told Channel 12 News that "It is possible that by Wednesday we will finally understand that Netanyahu chose [to drive Israel to an early] election - chose his personal political interests over the good of the state." He clarified that a vote in favor of dissolving the Knesset is "on the agenda," adding: "It is possible that next week we will dismantle this government."

Shai said in an interview that "the Prime Minister understands very well that the budget issue does not serve the citizens of Israel, but serves cynical political goals." He was asked if Kahol Lavan would support the proposal to dissolve the Knesset and replied: "There is a good chance that this will happen."

The main point of contention preventing the passing of a budget is the demand by Gantz to pass a two-year budget as outlined in the coalition agreement with 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.

Gantz, who also holds the title of alternate prime minister after signing a coalition deal with Likud in the spring, announced on Sunday that he was forming a commission of inquiry into the government's procurement of submarines and missile corvettes in the so-called submarine affair, prompting accusations by Likud and allies that he was doing so for political reasons.  

Senior Israeli army officers, public officials and a number of people close to Netanyahu are suspected of demanding and receiving bribes to advance the deals with Germany shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp.

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