Blue and White wins control over timetable for bill to dissolve Knesset

House Committee, held by Gantz’s party, votes against sending legislation to another committee, meaning Likud can’t hold it up and Blue and White can set election date

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz after the presentation of the 35th government of Israel at the Knesset, May 17, 2020. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz after the presentation of the 35th government of Israel at the Knesset, May 17, 2020. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party won control Monday of the schedule of a bill to dissolve the Knesset, meaning it will decide when and how new elections will be called, as well as when the national vote will be held.

The Knesset House Committee, where the Blue and White-led bloc has a majority over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bloc, voted to keep the discussions on the bill in its hands rather than hand it over to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, where the Likud bloc has a majority and where it could have held up the bill for weeks.

The committee members from Likud and its ultra-Orthodox allied parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, boycotted the vote with the exception of Likud MK Uzi Dayan, who abstained.

Ten members supported the motion, including committee chairman Eitan Ginzburg (Blue and White), while a rival proposal to send the bill to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee was rejected.

Last week, the proposal to dissolve the Knesset passed in an initial plenum vote, heralding the likely end of the power-sharing coalition between Netanyahu and Gantz.

After the bill is approved by the committee, it will go up for three more plenum votes before passing into law. Blue and White would then have control over the date of the new elections, which can be up to five months after the bill passes.

Even without the bill, the Knesset is already on track to dissolve — and send Israelis to the ballot box for the fourth time in two years — on December 23, the deadline for the government to pass a state budget for 2020.

The budget has long been held up by Likud, with Netanyahu widely believed to be planning to dissolve the government anyway before the 2021 budget must be passed in March, since under the coalition agreement, failure to pass the budget is the only scenario (apart from Blue and White causing the fall of the government) in which Gantz won’t succeed Netanyahu as prime minister.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a vote at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Blue and White have been demanding that a two-year state budget be passed for 2020 and 2021 together — as the coalition deal stipulates — in a bid to force Netanyahu to honor the power-sharing clause. Likud objects to that, meaning a compromise is unlikely and elections will be called on December 23 at the latest.

If the government falls due to failure to pass the budget, the election date will automatically be March 23, 2021. Likud prefers the elections be postponed to 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.

Coalition whip Miki Zohar (Likud), a staunch Netanyahu loyalist, said during Monday’s committee meeting that it could be convenient for the party to keep Blue and White in control of the vote, “so that everyone will see who is dissolving the Knesset, and that is Blue and White.”

Likud MK Osnat Mark accused Blue and White of only entering the coalition “to implement one clause of the deal — the rotation clause.”

“You entered this coalition untruthfully and unfaithfully,” she charged.

MK Matan Kahana of the right-wing Yamina party, which was formerly allied with Netanyahu but is now promoting new elections after it was left in the opposition, accused Likud of deliberately and “cynically” holding up the budget.

“The biggest danger would be for this government to keep functioning, or more accurately to keep not functioning,” said Kahana, whose party is predicted to surge in the polls, largely at Likud’s expense. “We have a government of disagreement that deals with cynical things and whose members keep each other in the dark.”

Gantz met late Sunday with Finance Minister Israel Katz (Likud) over the state budget in a bid to avert new elections. The meeting, however, ended without any tangible results.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, left, with Likud party member and Foreign Minister Israel Katz at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem as President Reuven Rivlin hosts over 40 world leaders as part of the World Holocaust Forum, on January 22, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Katz presented Gantz with his plans for the 2020-21 state budget, but continued to propose passing the 2020 budget now and the 2021 budget early next year, Hebrew-language media reported.

On Friday, Gantz said in a video message published to his Facebook account: “I say clearly now, it’s either an immediate budget or elections. Since it has become clear beyond doubt that Netanyahu has decided not to pass a budget, I decided to support the dissolution of the Knesset.”

While he said elections “are not the right thing for the country… they are far preferable to a paralysis of government” and to politics determining the management “of one of the worst crises of health and economy we have known.”

Gantz and Netanyahu’s coalition has been in a near-constant crisis since it was formed in May.

Netanyahu is facing trial in three criminal cases on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He has denied any wrongdoing. Much of the coalition tensions has centered on Blue and White’s belief that the prime minister is seeking to undermine law enforcement and democratic institutions, and exploit his position as premier, in order to improve his legal prospects.

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