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Bill to dissolve Knesset set for delay until next week, angering Blue and White

Gantz’s party accuses Likud of trying to thwart changes to campaign laws, as Knesset speaker says legislation should be agreed upon by all parties

Lawmakers in the Knesset plenum on December 9, 2020. (Dani Shem Tov/Knesset Spokesperson)
Lawmakers in the Knesset plenum on December 9, 2020. (Dani Shem Tov/Knesset Spokesperson)

The first Knesset plenum reading of a bill that would dissolve the government and call early elections will likely be pushed off to next week, Hebrew-language media reported Monday, angering Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, which is pushing the legislation.

The move by Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, is not aimed at preventing the dissolution of the parliament. Even without the bill, the Knesset is already on track to dissolve later this month due to an impasse over the state budget, which has long been held up by Likud. Moreover, Netanyahu is widely believed to be planning to dissolve the government anyway before the 2021 budget must be passed in March, in order to prevent a scenario in which, as stipulated by their power-sharing agreement, Gantz will succeed him as prime minister.

Rather, it is seen aimed at trying to thwart several clauses included in the Blue and White-pushed bill, which has a majority in the Knesset and has already cleared a preliminary plenum vote and been approved by the Knesset House Committee. It needs to pass three more plenum votes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, both wearing protective masks due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 7, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/Pool Photo via AP)

The bill would set elections for March 16, 2021, a week before the March 23 date which would be automatically selected if the bill doesn’t pass.

Additionally, the bill would reduce state funds to parties for their election campaigns by around 10 percent and increase transparency to clarify who is paying for campaign advertising, clauses opposed by Likud and the coalition Shas and United Torah Judaism parties.

Blue and White has been demanding that a state budget be passed for 2020 and 2021 together — also as the coalition deal stipulates — in a bid to force Netanyahu to honor the premiership rotation clause. If Likud continues to resist those demands, elections will be triggered on December 23 at the latest and held three months later.

Likud prefers the elections be postponed till the summer, when much of the population is expected to already be vaccinated against the coronavirus and criticism of Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic may ease.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with then-tourism minister Yariv Levin during a vote at the assembly hall of the Knesset on February 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

Levin, who controls the Knesset plenum schedule, set the first reading vote for Tuesday, rather than the usual Monday. It was also scheduled at the end of the plenum’s agenda, meaning the vote will likely not be held at all that day since the Knesset closes early due to the Hanukkah festival.

Levin reportedly isn’t willing to schedule the vote for Wednesday, which means it will be pushed off to next Monday, December 21 — just two days before the budget deadline.

Officials from both parties traded barbs Monday over the matter. House Committee Chairman Eitan Ginzburg (Blue and White) accused Levin of acting as a “legislation censor” and seeking to hinder the battle against fake news by thwarting the bill’s clauses.

Blue and White MK Eitan Ginzburg at the Knesset, on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Levin argued that the advancement of dissolution of the Knesset without the agreement of all parties was unprecedented, and that he was therefore allowing more time for negotiations. Ginzburg retorted by noting that last year, the Likud-led bloc consulted no party before dissolving the Knesset to prevent Gantz from getting a shot at forming a government.

“You’re alleging belligerence but are acting belligerently,” said Blue and White MK Miki Haimovich.

Likud is also set to advance a host of bills opposed by Blue and White, chiefly regarding the justice system, in retaliation for Blue and White advancing the legislation without its approval.

Meanwhile, MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser of the tiny Derech Eretz faction said Monday that they would resign their governmental positions — though not their Knesset seats — in the unlikely case that parliament does not disband in the coming days.

“We will not support any further compromises,” the two said in a statement, referring to a previous deal — proposed by Hauser — that extended the budget deadline from August to December. “We support disbanding the Knesset and returning to the voters in order to replace Netanyahu. If the coalition decides on another extension [of the deadline to pass a budget], we will resign our positions.”

Then-Blue and White party members MKs Yoaz Hendel, Zvi Hauser seen in the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Hendel is currently communications minister, while Hauser heads the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Those are the posts the two would be quitting.

Hendel and Hauser were originally part of Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem faction of Blue and White. When the alliance broke up earlier this year, with Benny Gantz heading to the coalition and Ya’alon and Yair Lapid to the opposition, the two MKs broke away to form Derech Eretz and joined Gantz’s bloc in the government.

They have announced in recent days that they plan to join breakaway Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party for the next election.

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