Less than five months ago, amid a cloud of uncertainty and fear over the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to the television studios and urged the head of the “anyone but Bibi” bloc, Benny Gantz, to set aside the bitter disputes that had accompanied Israel through three general elections over the past year, to mop up the last of the mud hurled at him during the ugliest campaign in Israel’s history and to form a unity government with Netanyahu so that they could fight the coronavirus together, for the good of the country. Netanyahu looked straight into the cameras and promised Gantz, “If you agree, I’ll vacate my post in a year and a half, with no tricks and no shticks.”
The rest is history. Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, two former Israel Defense Forces chiefs of staff, were summoned to rally round the flag and they reported for duty. Loyal to the mission, and nothing else, they agreed to “carry the stretcher,” because “Israel comes before everything.” To the astonishment of their own bloc, they broke their main promise to their voters – not to join Netanyahu. They turned their backs on their own voters, shut their ears to the objections and protests and dismantled their partnership with Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, along with the joint ticket that, for the first time in a decade, had offered real hope of an alternative to Netanyahu’s terrible reign.
Now, as expected, Netanyahu is seeking to break his promise. According to his coalition agreement with Gantz, if there’s no agreement on a national budget by August 25, the Knesset will dissolve immediately and an early election will be called. On Sunday, this “budget crisis” even led to the cancellation of the weekly cabinet meeting.
But it’s worth pointing out, once again, that this is a fake crisis, one Netanyahu deliberately created in order to withdraw from his rotation agreement with Gantz. Netanyahu has insisted on passing a one-year budget even though the year will soon be over, in defiance of his own previous views and the advice of economic experts and Finance Ministry professionals. His motive is purely political. The budget is just an excuse for violating the coalition agreement and preventing the prime ministership from rotating to Gantz in November 2021 as promised.
Gantz is right to insist on a two-year budget. Even he has realized that if it isn’t the budget, Netanyahu will find some other issue that he can use to break the rules and violate the agreement. Netanyahu has already dragged Israel to the polls three times over the course of a year and won’t hesitate to drag it to them once again – even though the country is at the height of an unprecedented health and economic crisis, even though he promised the public “no tricks and no shticks,” even though he signed an agreement, shook hands with Gantz and made a commitment to the president.
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To Netanyahu, nothing matters except his own escape from justice and his own political survival. Anyone who believes him will be burned. And anyone who cooperates with him will be a party to polluting our politics and increasing the public’s distrust of its elected representatives.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.