Exactly one year before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to relinquish the premiership to Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, both leaders expressed doubt on Tuesday that the power-sharing deal between will be honored, and few politicians or analysts seem to believe that the transfer will go ahead.
According to the coalition deal, reached in April after Gantz went from Netanyahu’s chief rival in three elections to his most senior political partner, Netanyahu is to serve as prime minister until November 17, 2021, when Gantz will succeed him.
The coalition deal was supposed to block loopholes Netanyahu could use to avoid handing over power, and stipulated that if Netanyahu dissolves the government before his tenure ends, Gantz automatically becomes interim prime minister.
One loophole remains, however. If the government falls due to failure to pass the state budget, Netanyahu retains the premiership. He has been accused of using the budget as leverage, while charging that Gantz has been violating the coalition agreement himself.
During a tour of northern Israel on Tuesday, Gantz, the defense minister, was asked if he thought he will become prime minister on November 17, 2021.
“I think it should happen,” Gantz said. “We have a deal, [Netanyahu] should honor it.”
Pressed on the matter, Gantz added: “We’ll see.”
Netanyahu, speaking with right-wing radio station Galei Yisrael, was asked the same question.
“Who knows?” he answered. “If they give some, they’ll get some. Meanwhile, we are getting a government within a government. To a large extent, this will determine what will happen later.”
The Kan public broadcaster quoted Netanyahu’s “associates” saying there was a “negligible chance that Benny Gantz will serve as prime minister,” adding that “he has lost legitimacy.”
When the rotation agreement was signed, Netanyahu said on primetime TV that he would honor the deal with Gantz “without any tricks.”
Meanwhile, a poll published Tuesday evening by Channel 13 predicted that the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox political bloc would pick up 65 of the Knesset’s 120 seats if elections were held today.
That includes Netanyahu’s Likud with 29 seats, and Yamina, currently in the opposition, with 22. The two parties have been at odds as Yamina rises in the polls, with Netanyahu on Tuesday questioning the right-wing credentials of Yamina leader Naftali Bennett.
The center-left bloc was projected to win 48 seats. Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party would receive the remaining 7 seats, according to the poll.
The survey predicted 20 seats of Yair Lapid’s center-left Yesh Atid, 10 for Gantz’s Blue and White, seven for the left-wing Meretz, 11 for the Arab-majority Joint List, eight for the ultra-Orthodox Shas and 6 for the Haredi United Torah Judaism.
It also found that a plurality of respondents — 50 percent — believe elections are preferable to the current, dysfunctional unity government. Another 35% said the government should continue, while 15% said they didn’t know.
Gantz warned Monday that if Netanyahu doesn’t “get a grip” and allow the government to make policy decisions, the Knesset will disband and new elections will be called, in what would be the fourth round of voting within two years.
Speaking at the start of his Blue and White party’s weekly faction meeting, Gantz expressed frustration at cabinet stagnation in making decisions on the pandemic and the easing of a national lockdown ordered to curb the virus spread.
“We cannot have another day without making decisions,” he said at the start of Blue and White’s weekly faction meeting. “If we go to elections, the country’s citizens will know who dragged them there.”
Gantz’s threat to Netanyahu comes against a backdrop of increasing rhetoric from Blue and White lawmakers — led by Gantz himself — indicating that the current unity government is coming to an end over the budget impasse.
Raul Wootliff contributed to this report.