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Miki Haimovich speaks of 'moving to replace Netanyahu'

Blue and White MK says growing group within party favors breaking with Netanyahu

PM’s Likud, Gantz’s party snipe at each other, escalating coalition crisis that could lead to 4th elections since April 2019

Miki Haimovich with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90/File)
Miki Haimovich with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90/File)

A Blue and White lawmaker said Sunday that a growing number of lawmakers in Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s party were considering dissolving the partnership with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, which would topple the government and likely result in the fourth national election since April 2019.

“In recent days, there is a growing group inside Blue and White that is definitely thinking about the option of responsibly dissolving the partnership with Likud, without giving up the positions of power, but with moving to replace Netanyahu,” Miki Haimovich told the Kan public broadcaster.

Her office told Channel 12 news that she meant breaking with Likud only if Knesset elections are called.

The remark, however, appeared to mark an escalation in the latest coalition crisis between Likud and Blue and White, following the passage last week of new legislation limiting mass protests against Netanyahu during the current coronavirus lockdown and Gantz’s call to appoint a new state attorney.

Further underscoring the tensions between the parties, Agriculture Minister Alon Schuster of Blue and White said Christmas may also be “memorial day for the government.”

“I very much hope that by then we will be able to say we have embarked on a logical path,” he told Army Radio.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) sits with Likud Minister Zeev Elkin during a special cabinet meeting at the Ein Lavan spring in Jerusalem, June 2, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/File)

Likud Minister Ze’ev Elkin, meanwhile, said in an interview with the radio station that Blue and White was interfering with the government’s work and therefore “there may be no choice but to go to elections.”

Elkin said that prior to the swearing-in of the government in March, the transition government that had been in place since December 2018 was “composed of ministers who knew how to work together.” He acknowledged that if elections were called, Blue and White ministers would remain in office until a new government was formed.

Likud and Blue and White also sniped at each other on Twitter.

“Blue and White is breaking up the unity government and sowing chaos during a national emergency situation, only to pick up votes from the left for their party, which is collapsing in the polls,” Likud wrote on its official account.

Hitting back, Blue and White charged it was Likud who was “sowing chaos” by not advancing a state budget for next year.

“As long as that isn’t done, Likud isn’t interested in anything besides political survival,” the centrist party said.

Responding to this, Likud accused Blue and White of seeking new elections.

“We again call on Blue and White to act in national unity and help with economic assistance for Israeli citizens instead of dealing in petty politics,” Netanyahu’s party said.

In August, new elections were narrowly avoided after a bill was passed at the last minute delaying the deadline to pass a state budget until December 23. If a budget is not passed by then, new elections would be called without Netanyahu having to hand over the premiership as part of his rotation agreement with Gantz.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, the No. 2 in Blue and White, said Saturday that he was not sure if Gantz would become prime minister in November 2021, per the coalition deal with the Likud.

“We don’t what will happen in another month or two. I don’t know if there will be a rotation next year,” Ashkenazi told Channel 12 news.

He said that if Blue and White feels it can longer influence government policy, “that is a red line.”

“If Netanyahu wants elections, that isn’t a threat to us. It’s a threat to the public,” he said.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi talks to the media at a news conference in front of the Liebermann Villa at Wannsee Lake in Berlin, Germany, August 27, 2020. (Michele Tantussi/Pool Photo via AP)

Ashkenazi was also asked about Blue and White MK Asaf Zamir’s decision to resign as tourism minister on Friday.

“I understand the difficulties, respect the decision but don’t agree with it. If you want to influence you can only do this from within the government. Resigning is leaving the political arena to Netanyahu,” he said.

In a Facebook post explaining his decision to resign, Zamir cited the controversial new law to restrict protests and accused Netanyahu of putting his legal woes before the fight against COVID-19.

Shortly after Zamir’s announcement, Gantz said Blue and White party would move immediately to make a permanent appointment to the post of state attorney, which has not been properly filled since December of last year, appearing to set himself on a new collision path with Likud and Netanyahu.

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

Channel 12 news reported the move was part of a deliberate change of attitude by Blue and White, reflecting a determination to take a more confrontational approach against Netanyahu amid the realization that its attempts at compromise thus far have not served it well.

Likud in response accused Blue and White of playing political games and breaking coalition agreements “in a desperate attempt to cobble up some left-wing votes and to prevent their collapse in the polls.”

It added: “Blue and White is in the government while acting against the government. It’s time they decided whether they’re fighting the pandemic or fighting the government.”

Netanyahu, on trial in three corruption cases, is seen as unlikely to agree to (Blue and White) Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn’s pick for the state attorney post. In their coalition agreement, the parties agreed to put off any senior nominations which they are likely to clash over. Blue and White cannot appoint a new state attorney without Likud’s agreement, but a hard push to do so by Gantz’s party would further destabilize the already shaky foundations of the dysfunctional unity government.

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