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Blue and White MKs threatening to split off if Gantz bows to Netanyahu on budget

5 senior lawmakers would form new faction and join opposition, says member of potential breakaway group, declaring each day the unity government continues is a ‘disaster’

Shalom Yerushalmi is the political analyst for Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew current affairs website

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

Senior members of the Blue and White party are threatening to splinter off and form an opposition faction if Defense Minister Minister Benny Gantz gives in to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in their dispute over the state budget.

One of the potential breakaway group told Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s sister site in Hebrew, that every day the unity government continues is “a disaster.”

There has been increasing rhetoric from Blue and White lawmakers — led by Gantz himself — indicating that the current unity government is coming to an end over the budget issue and cabinet squabbling that has hampered governance.

If no budget is passed by late December the government will automatically dissolve. Netanyahu is widely believed to be stalling on the budget in order to call snap elections and avoid an agreed-upon handover of power next year to Gantz, the Blue and White party leader and alternate prime minister.

Five MKs, a third of Blue and White’s lawmakers, will split off and form their own new party that will leave the coalition and go to the opposition if Gantz continues to go along with Netanyahu’s plans.

“This government needs to be dismantled,” one of the breakaway Blue and White members, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Zman. “It is a harmful government, the worst in the history of the country. Every additional day is a disaster.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset plenum during a vote on Israel’s normalization deal with Bahrain, November 10, 2020. (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset Spokesperson)

Some in Blue and White are pushing for the entire party to not wait any further and want to immediately disband the Knesset and call new elections. That hardline camp includes Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and MKs Assaf Zamir and Miki Haimovich, among others, although they are not fully decided on the matter.

On Tuesday Gantz publicly appealed to Netanyahu to pass the budget, saying that failure to do so would be a “crime” against the citizenry.

Speaking in the Knesset plenum, Gantz said time was running out on the budget. “It’s in your hands whether to prevent an economic and social disaster and do the right thing for the citizens of Israel.”

Later during a visit to Jerusalem City Hall, Gantz warned that “the hourglass is running out” on the budget and Israel would soon be headed for another round of elections.

However, a concern for Gantz is Blue and White’s recent polling numbers, which have predicted the party would dive to just ten MKs if elections were held, while Netanyahu, at the head of a diminished Likud party, would still be able to form a majority right-wing bloc. Blue and White currently has 14 MKs, as well as Gantz who resigned from the Knesset to focus on ministerial duties in a move allowed under Knesset regulations.

Israel saw three inconclusive elections in the space of 15 months as Gantz tried to oust Netanyahu before the two finally agreed to form a unity government in June, citing the need to combine forces against the coronavirus outbreak and end public discord.

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

On Sunday the Kan public broadcaster reported that Gantz met with the leader of the opposition right-wing Yamina party, Naftali Bennett, to discuss the possibility of dissolving the government and triggering a new vote.

Gantz reportedly believes Netanyahu won’t keep his promise to hand over the premiership in November 2021 as per the power-sharing agreement they signed, and is frustrated by the continued delays in passing the state budget for this year and next, which would all but guarantee he would become prime minister.

Members of Blue and White have also reportedly met with opposition leader MK Yair Lapid in order to coordinate their moves.

The Knesset last passed a state budget in March 2018. Israel has limped through 2020 without a state budget, even though the coalition agreement signed by Blue and White and Likud in April agreed that a two-year 2020-21 budget would be passed in the summer.

To prevent either side from bringing down the government, the power-sharing deal stipulates that if one side triggers a coalition collapse, the other automatically receives the premiership for the three months leading up to an election as well as the transition period in its wake.

But one of the few loopholes in that deal says the failsafe does not occur if the sides fail to pass a budget, leading to early elections.

Netanyahu has demanded a single-year budget, in contravention of the deal, citing the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Blue and White suspects he wants to leave himself a window to bring down the government during 2021 budget talks next year.

The initial budget deadline had been in August, with a failure to pass the 2020-2021 budget by then requiring the Knesset to dissolve. But Likud and Blue and White agreed to a last-minute compromise that gave the parties until December 23.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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