Netanyahu says 'no doubt' elections are close

Blue and White minister: ‘Good chance’ we’ll vote to dissolve Knesset next week

Second minister in Gantz’s party also confirms they’re weighing voting in favor of opposition’s no-confidence motion on Wednesday, which would topple coalition and trigger election

Benny Gantz, center, and Benjamin Netanyahu, right, at the Knesset on November 10, 2020. (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset spokesperson)
Benny Gantz, center, and Benjamin Netanyahu, right, at the Knesset on November 10, 2020. (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset spokesperson)

A minister from the Blue and White party said on Thursday that there was a “good chance” his party would vote in favor of a motion of no confidence in the government, toppling the coalition and setting the country formally on the path to new elections.

“There is a good chance that we will vote in favor of dissolving the Knesset on Wednesday,” Science Minister Izhar Shay told Army Radio.

Shay was the second minister from Blue and White to comment on the matter after Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper told Channel 12 news that the party was mulling voting in favor of disbanding the parliament.

“We are considering whether to support a proposal to dissolve the Knesset as early as next week,” Tropper said.

Izhar Shay poses at the Knesset, on April 29, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

In a move aimed at pressuring the centrist Blue and White to break ranks with the coalition amid an ongoing deterioration of relations within the government, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said on Monday that he would again present a proposal next week to disperse the Knesset and call new elections.

Blue and White’s leader, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, has refused to say if his party will support the bill. The party has been reportedly weighing putting forward its own bill to disperse the Knesset to avoid handing Yesh Atid credit for the move. Lapid’s bill would likely fail without Blue and White’s support.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein visit the Teva Pharmaceuticals logistics center in Shoham, where coronavirus vaccines would be stored in freezers and then distributed, November 26, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there was “no doubt” elections are coming, and blamed his coalition partners. “When agreements are not respected on the part of Blue and White, there is no doubt that we are on the way to elections,” he said.

“If we see a different approach from the Blue and White side and cooperation within the government, instead of a government within a government, we can continue to work together. If not, everyone can understand that this will lead to elections,” the prime minister said.

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked said Wednesday that her right-wing religious party would support Lapid’s bill to disband the Knesset, with the government appearing to teeter on the brink of collapse anyway.

Shaked asserted to the Ynet news site that her party was now “a leadership alternative” to Likud, and said people were tired of “the failing parties currently running the country.” Yamina leader Naftali Bennett “is able, worthy and needs to be the next prime minister,” she said.

Jewish Home chair Naftali Bennett (L) speaks with Yesh Atid chair Yair Lapid in the Knesset plenum, March 11, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A pair of polls published Tuesday night showed Likud remaining the largest party in the Knesset, with one survey, however, giving Yamina a shot at forming a coalition without it.

A poll by the Kan broadcaster gave Likud 31 seats and Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina 21, followed by Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid with 17. The predominantly Arab-Israeli Joint List got 11 seats; and Blue and White, headed by Benny Gantz, received nine seats. Also with nine seats are Shas and Yisrael Beytenu, while UTJ snagged seven and Meretz six.

A separate poll from Channel 13 showed a closer contest, with Netanyahu maintaining a 27-23 seat advantage over Bennett. The poll gave Yesh Atid 20 seats, the Joint List 11, and Blue and White 10. Yisrael Beytenu gained eight seats, Shas and UTJ seven and Meretz six.

The Channel 13 numbers showed that Bennett could potentially form a narrow right-center coalition with Yesh Atid, Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu. In that long-shot instance, Bennett would likely be prime minister.

Some polls in past weeks have shown Bennett’s Yamina gaining on Netanyahu, who has seen his Likud party fall to as low as 23 seats.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz visits the Jerusalem Municipality on November 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With just over a month remaining until the end of the year, the High Court of Justice instructed the government on Tuesday to explain why it has thus far failed to pass a budget for 2020. The court gave the government 21 days to explain the legality of an amendment to Israel’s Basic Law, passed by legislators in August, which allowed them to delay the passing of the budget until mid-December.

Under the coalition deal between Likud and Blue and White, the two agreed to pass a budget running through 2021. Netanyahu, however, is now insisting on separate budgets for 2020 and 2021, with a failure to pass a budget allowing him to avoid handing over the premiership to Gantz and instead go to elections.

Now, with Gantz having announced a government committee to investigate the so-called submarine affair that has ensnared several of Netanyahu’s allies, the coalition looks closer than ever to falling apart.

Blue and White joined rival Likud to form a coalition in May, following three consecutive elections. Gantz said at the time that he was joining Netanyahu for the benefit of the country to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

But he told Channel 13 on Tuesday, “If Netanyahu continues to put his interests ahead of other interests, we will come to an election, and he will have to explain why there is no budget… I understand that his considerations are personal and not necessarily national.”

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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