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Nissenkorn: 'Netanyahu is beating his head against a wall'

Compromises rejected, badmouthing persists as budget crisis nears climax

With 4 days left until government dissolves, and new elections are called, Blue and White refuses Likud offer to skip approval of 2020 budget, denies offer on senior appointments

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, on July 5, 2020. (Amit Shabi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, on July 5, 2020. (Amit Shabi/Flash90)

The Likud and Blue and White parties continued to squabble Thursday over the terms of a potential deal to delay the looming deadline for passing the state budget and avert the immediate threat of early elections.

No compromise appeared to be on the horizon as several reported proposals by both parties faced immediate criticism.

The parties of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have until Monday night, August 24, to either pass a state budget — practically impossible with the time left to do so — or pass a bill to delay the budget by 100 days, or else the government dissolves and the country goes to its fourth election since April 2019.

The bill to postpone the deadline has been approved in the first of three readings, but Likud is reported to be making various demands in order to support its final passage.

Netanyahu has been reported to be demanding various changes to his coalition agreement with Blue and White to protect his status as his criminal trial moves forward, as well as to assert more power over the justice and law enforcement systems.

Netanyahu is also reportedly demanding greater power over senior appointments, including of top law enforcement officials, in contradiction to previous agreements.

Gantz has insisted on passing a budget for 2020-21, as the coalition deal between the parties stipulates, while Netanyahu is insisting on a budget that only covers the rest of 2020, citing the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Since under the laws passed to form the coalition, failure to pass a 2021 budget by next March would force new elections, Blue and White has accused Netanyahu of deliberately attempting to violate the coalition agreement with his budget demand in order leave himself a future window to dissolve the government and avoid having to hand over the prime minister post to Gantz in November 2021, as per the deal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz lead a weekly cabinet meeting, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 7, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem)

Likud has offered to skip approval of the 2020 budget entirely, and start talks on the state budget for next year, the Kan public broadcaster reported Thursday.

However, the proposal leaves Netanyahu’s party a possible window of opportunity to dissolve the government in March 2021 without Gantz becoming transitional prime minister, which would undermine the power-sharing deal.

That is why Blue and White opposes the proposal, according to the report.

Meanwhile, Army Radio reported Thursday morning that Blue and White are formulating their own offer, which would see senior law enforcement appointments frozen for an additional period, until a mechanism for those nominations is finalized.

More importantly, the plan would include the immediate appointment of a new interim state attorney instead of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who currently holds the temporary role.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at the 17th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group, on February 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Netanyahu, livid at Mandelblit for announcing corruption charges against him in three criminal cases, tried unsuccessfully to prevent him from becoming interim state attorney when Shai Nitzan’s tenure ended in December. Replacing Mandelblit as interim state attorney is one of the premier’s goals.

According to the reported Blue and White proposal, Mandelblit’s replacement will be announced soon, with the agreement of both parties, and will serve until a full-time state attorney is picked.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid-Telem party lambasted the reported Blue and White proposal.

“I refuse to believe this is true,” Lapid tweeted. “This is a blowout sale of the rule of law to a criminal defendant. I cannot believe Gantz and [Justice Minister Avi] Nissenkorn will lend a hand to that.

“If they agree to this, it’s not even politics anymore. They won’t be able to say they are decent people,” he said.

However, Blue and White’s Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen told Army Radio that she opposes the proposed deal. “We don’t have to compromise,” she said. “Maybe we’ll cancel Netanyahu’s trial in the name of unity? The line is drawn in the [coalition] deal we signed.”

New Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn speaks during a ceremony at the Justice Ministry on May 18, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Nissenkorn, the justice minister, attacked Likud for its “obsessive” dealing with the identity of the state attorney and “politicization” of law enforcement appointments.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu is beating his head against a wall,” he told Army Radio.

Likud and Blue and White members continued meanwhile to badmouth each other in interviews.

“The issue isn’t a single-year budget anymore,” Blue and White’s Science Minister Izhar Shay told Army Radio. “If someone wants to drag us to elections, they will find any way to do that.”

Likud’s Public Security Minister Amir Ohana told the station: “I don’t expect this government to function more than reasonably well, but we don’t currently have that. There is no mutual trust.”

Gantz said Wednesday that his party was making all efforts to solve the crisis, but said it would not compromise on its core tenets to do so.

“Netanyahu may lead to awful elections,” he said.

“Nothing justifies elections,” Gantz told his faction, accusing Netanyahu of “playing poker” at the expense of Israelis.

Naftali Bennett, leader of the religious right-wing Yamina party, who has been surging in recent polls over his criticism of the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, tweeted sharp criticism of Netanyahu Monday, saying: “I’m sad to see a venerable politician occupied with petty politics, instead of taking care of the needs of a suffering people.”

Yamina Party chairman Naftali Bennett at a press conference in Jerusalem on May 14, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bennett was responding to a news report that claimed Netanyahu has instructed allies to attack him in an effort to curb his rise in polls, in the event that a new election is called.

The disagreements between Likud and Blue and White are multifaceted, and are reported to have branched out from the core disagreement about the state budget itself — though its passage is the sword of Damocles that currently hangs over the government’s survival.

Channel 12 has reported that the premier is using the budget as leverage to pressure Gantz into agreeing to changes to the existing coalition deal between the two sides.

According to the report, Netanyahu is demanding that the accord be altered so elections are automatically called should the High Court of Justice disqualify him from serving as alternate prime minister after he hands over the premiership to Gantz in November 2021. The current deal only gives Netanyahu protection for the first six months of the government’s existence.

An unnamed senior official in Likud lashed out on Wednesday at Blue and White over the ongoing coalition crisis, suggesting lawmakers were unlikely to stave off the collapse of the government.

“This business isn’t working. From the start I didn’t have high expectations, but I didn’t think it would be like this. It’s impossible to work,” the unnamed official said of the coalition, according to Hebrew-language media reports. “Will we go to elections on Monday? This government is not functioning. Continuing in the current situation is even worse than elections.”

“We have come up with a lot of ideas to solve the budget issue. So far Blue and White have not agreed to any of them,” the senior official said.

The official added that there have been no meetings between Likud and Blue and White officials to discuss the budget impasse since Sunday.

The bill to delay the deadline, proposed by Derech Eretz MK Zvi Hauser, passed its first reading on Monday. It must pass three readings before it becomes law, and the Knesset Finance Committee must vote to approve it for its second and third readings.

Under the terms of the bill, the deadline would be put off by 100 days until December 3. As the bill requires changing the country’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws, it must pass with a majority of 61 out of the 120 lawmakers in the Knesset.

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