After staving off elections, Blue and White, Likud continue to trade barbs

Gantz says Netanyahu sowing societal rifts, hints he’s pushing elections due to corruption trial; Likud accuses rivals of sabotaging government from within

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a vote to stave off a budget deadline and thus avert elections, at the Knesset on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a vote to stave off a budget deadline and thus avert elections, at the Knesset on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

The Blue and White and Likud parties smeared one another in the press on Wednesday, just two days after the coalition partners agreed to legislation that gave their government another 120 days of breathing room, holding off elections for the time being.

In a briefing with ultra-Orthodox reporters, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of sowing division among Israeli citizens.

Asked whether Netanyahu was dividing Israel, Gantz said yes, and expressed hope that “he will stop.”

Commenting on the election-skirting legislation passed Monday night that gives the government until December 23 to pass a state budget, the Blue and White chairman said, “If someone wastes these next [120] days again, it is a sign that his intentions are impure and you know that someone is not me.”

Ganz then hinted that Netanyahu wants an early election because of the ongoing criminal trial against him, which is slated to pick up pace in January.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum on August 24, 2020. (Knesset Spokesperson’s Office)

“The calendar was known in advance, nothing has changed. The only thing in it is a particular date and you know what that is, but that date was also known well in advance,” Gantz said cryptically.

Responding to Gantz’s remarks, a Likud spokesman issued a statement saying, “The State of Israel now needs a functioning unity government that works for the people.

“The daily Blue and White attacks against Prime Minister Netanyahu and Likud do not help,” the statement added, accusing Gantz’s party of seeking to sabotage the government from within.

Gantz also pledged to run once again as the head of Blue and White if elections are indeed called.

He further lamented the lack of willingness of the leaders of the Haredi parties, who had vowed to stand by Gantz if Netanyahu sought to break his coalition agreement with Blue and White, to speak up when the premier — in contravention of that deal — pushed for passing a one-year rather than a two-year budget.

“I think the ultra-Orthodox [parties] should have been much more determined to abide by the agreement,” Gantz said, adding that those parties had the most to gain if the coalition lasts longer.

The Blue and White chairman also stood by the government’s coronavirus czar, Ronni Gamzu, who has sought to bar thousands of ultra-Orthodox Israelis from making an annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to the grave site of the late Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav in Uman, Ukraine next month.

Gantz pointed out that all Israelis have had to make sacrifices due to the coronavirus, providing the example of bereaved families who weren’t able to visit their loved ones’ graves on Memorial Day this year.

The Blue and White chairman vowed not to sow rifts between Israel’s religious and secular public.

“I will never employ hateful discourse toward the ultra-Orthodox or anyone else. This is not my way — not when I was in the army, not when I am a citizen and not when I’m in politics,” he said.

Though elections were averted this week, many analysts believe the government is still on life support and will not survive beyond the next deadline. If, come December 23, the coalition still fails to agree on a budget, the country will head to new elections in March, with Netanyahu keeping his seat throughout the process.

View of the Knesset plenum on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

The Monday night breakthrough happened after Netanyahu and Gantz both said their parties would vote in favor of the delay, after a day of their respective Likud and Blue and White parties hurling accusations at each other.

Though the crisis was ostensibly about the state budget, the true bones of contention appeared to be the issue of senior law-enforcement appointments and the balance of power in the dysfunctional unity coalition.

Despite earlier Likud demands, the final bill approved by the Knesset plenum Monday night did not include a clause, demanded by the party earlier, to form a panel on senior appointments. Netanyahu has been accused of seeking to engineer the appointment of top legal officials — including a new state prosecutor — who would be willing to be more lenient in the graft trial against him. The prime minister denied any such plan.

According to Channel 12 news, Blue and White said it would only accept such a clause if Likud agreed to also pass long-delayed regulations formalizing the equal balance of power in the cabinet, as agreed upon in the coalition deal between them — which Likud refused to do.

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