Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz said Friday that he would not compromise on the coalition agreement reached earlier this year with Likud and that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party refused to adhere to that deal, he was prepared to take his party into another round of elections.
“If Netanyahu, who violates the agreement between us time and again, does not straighten out — we will head to the polls and make sure he is not the prime minister, while in the meantime continue holding all key positions,” Gantz said in a Facebook post published days before the Tuesday midnight deadline to pass an annual budget in order to prevent the country from holding a fourth election in less than two years.
A failure to pass a budget is the lone loophole in the rotation agreement that would let Netanyahu avoid having to give up the premiership to Gantz in November 2021. As such, Likud has been holding up the budget for months in an effort to renegotiate a more favorable coalition agreement that would see Netanyahu’s one-and-half-year term extended at the expense of Gantz’s identical allotment of time as premier. Likud is also seeking to curb the influence of Blue and White Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn.
Nissenkorn remaining in his post would mean that he would lead the government appointments of the next state prosecutor and attorney general — two positions seen as critical to Netanyahu, whose criminal trial is slated to resume soon. Nissenkorn also opposes efforts by Netanyahu allies to reform the justice system, appoint more conservative judges and limit the power of the courts more broadly.
While Blue and White has asserted that Likud should be expected to hold the agreement that the parties signed, Netanyahu’s faction is seen to be taking advantage of Gantz’s slate’s slow and almost complete decline in the polls since he decided last March to forgo his main election promise and serve in a Netanyahu-led government after declaring for months that the Likud leader could not be trusted.
“The situation is simple,” Ganz wrote in his Friday post. “I led Blue and White to form a unity government with Netanyahu because of two pandemics: the coronavirus pandemic and the pandemic of division in our society.”
“We will remain in the government only if it works to eradicate both — the economic [ramifications of the] coronavirus that cannot be fought without passing an expanded and stable state budget and a functioning government, along with the attempts to undermine democracy and undermine the agreement between us and the Likud. There will be no compromises,” Gantz asserted.
In its response, Likud said in a statement of its own that “the continuation of government activity requires compromises on all sides so we can continue working to provide vaccines and financial assistance to the citizens of Israel as we see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
“It would be a shame to drag the country to elections at this time, but if elections are forced upon us, we will be prepared, and we will win,” the party added.
The back and forth came a day after the parties denied reports claiming sudden progress had been made toward reaching an election-preventing compromise.
Channel 13 on Thursday reported on “dramatic” progress had been made in talks between the parties with a source, evidently from Blue and White, telling the network Gantz’s slate had managed to ensure the rotation agreement that will allow Gantz to replace Netanyahu as premier, in addition to keeping Nissenkorn on as justice minister.
But Likud issued a quick denial of the Channel 13 report, calling it fake news.
While the network reported that Gantz had ensured the rotation agreement in principle, it did not specify whether Likud had agreed to hold to the original deal that stated the Blue and White leader would replace Netanyahu in November 2021.
According to a second report, on Channel 12, the parties are in talks to push that date back to May or even August of 2022, with Gantz then serving as premier for just six months to a year.
Meanwhile, Gantz also appeared to deny the report, telling fellow Blue and White lawmakers at a faction Hanukkah party Thursday night that no compromise was on the table and that the country was indeed heading for another election.
“Rest up now because we’ll be starting to campaign soon,” he said, according to Kan news.
The impending dissolution of the Knesset is a direct result of the impasse over the national budget, which has long been held up by Likud in what is widely believed to be an effort to prevent Gantz from succeeding Netanyahu as prime minister, as stipulated by their power-sharing agreement.
Blue and White has been demanding that a budget be passed for 2020 and 2021 together, as the coalition deal stipulates, while Netanyahu insisted on one that only covers the rest of 2020, citing the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. But the passage of a one-year budget could allow Netanyahu to kick off new elections down the line without having to hand over the premiership to Gantz next year, as the deal says.
At any rate, failure to pass any budget by December 23 will trigger automatic elections.