Deri warns Netanyahu and Gantz: Public won’t forgive us if we go to elections

Shas leader urges Likud, Blue and White to compromise in standoff over budget that could see Israel headed to fourth vote in less than two years

Shas party chairman and Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, at the Knesset on November 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Shas party chairman and Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, at the Knesset on November 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri warned his Likud and Blue and White coalition partners to ease up on threats of breaking up the coalition, saying the people would never forgive them for another election.

Likud is currently at loggerheads with Blue and White over whether to pass a one-year budget, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists, or the two-year budget pushed by Defense Minister Gantz, who is also alternate prime minister.

Failure to pass a budget by August 25 will trigger automatic elections in November, in what would be the fourth round of voting in less than two years.

“The Israeli people will not forgive us if we go to elections,” Deri, who leads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, said in an interview with Channel 12. “The people don’t understand [this dispute] and want us to work together.”

Deri, who was instrumental in helping bring Netanyahu and Gantz together into a unity coalition, said he continues to try and mediate.

“I’m talking to everyone and trying to find various compromises. We have to get past this. This is a broad government that we worked very hard to put together, it has to continue,” Deri said.

Amid deep distrust between the two parties, Gantz has vowed not to back down from his demand for a two-year budget, as stipulated by the coalition agreement.

In seeking to renege on his coalition deal with Gantz and pass only a budget for the remainder of the current year, Netanyahu has been citing the uncertainty created by the coronavirus crisis, but many see it as a way for him to back out of the power-sharing arrangement he signed with Gantz, who is slated to take over the premiership late next year.

While Deri said Shas was opposed to going to new elections, he declined to say if he supported a one- or two-year budget.

“We are doing what we can to find a compromise between the two views on the budget,” he said “Everyone has to compromise, we can’t bring the government down over this.”

Earlier in the day, regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis warned that if the Blue and White party does not back a single-year budget as pushed by his Likud party, the latter will seek to replace the unity coalition with an alternative government of 61 MKs.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with then-Science Minister Ofir Akunis (L) at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting on December 22, 2019, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Akunis told Army Radio that if the budget is not passed by the cabinet this week, his Likud party will strive to avoid new elections by forming a new government from the current Knesset before the budget deadline arrives.

“I, and the Likud, don’t want the Knesset to disperse, but rather that an alternative government be formed within the 23rd Knesset,” he said, without specifying how a majority of 61 MKs from the 120-seat Knesset would be achieved.

The Likud “isn’t going to blink” in the standoff with Blue and White over the budget, Akunis asserted.

“Everyone will know who led Israel to a fourth election” if elections are eventually called, he said. “The blame will all go to Gantz.”

Earlier in the day, Netanyahu told a meeting of his Likud faction at the Knesset that the budget must be passed or the country will need to make “significant cutbacks” at a time when it is striving to breathe life into an economy hamstrung by the coronavirus outbreak.

“This is not the time for cutbacks,” Netanyahu said. “This is the time to provide money to the citizens.”

Despite Akunis’s assurances, Netanyahu is widely believed to be doubling down on the single-year option as a way of leaving himself the option of dissolving the government next year by failing to pass a 2021 budget — the only option that, according to his complex and convoluted deal with Gantz, will allow him to send the country to a new election without Gantz automatically becoming prime minister in the interim.

The unity government, formed after three successive elections proved inconclusive and finally sworn in on May 17, has since been beset by wrangling and blocking maneuvers between the right-wing Likud and centrist Blue and White.

On Sunday, coalition whip MK Miki Zohar told the Kan public broadcaster, “There is a gaping abyss between us and Blue and White on many topics at an ideological level.”

“It is a like a couple that wants to divorce and that at any moment” will begin proceedings to end the marriage, he said. “That is the feeling at the moment: that it doesn’t matter what we do, it is going to end between us and Blue and White.”

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