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Gantz admits he doesn’t expect Netanyahu to honor premiership rotation deal

In first, Blue and White leader reportedly tells associates he doesn’t trust PM to make good on their power-sharing deal; some of his party’s MKs urge immediate exit from coalition

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)
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)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has reportedly admitted to close confidants that he does not expect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make good on the rotation agreement that would see Gantz assume the premiership next year.

According to an unsourced Channel 12 report Monday, Gantz met at his home the previous day with the core founding members of Blue and White, originally called the Israel Resilience party, to decided whether to immediately bolt the coalition and take the country to the polls.

Under the terms of the coalition deal, reached after three inconclusive elections within a year and a half, Gantz, who is also alternate prime minister, is supposed to take over as prime minister in November 2021.

“I understand that I won’t get the rotation,” Gantz reportedly said, in his first comments conceding the matter. “I won’t believe Netanyahu even a day before it is to happen.”

Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White have had a stormy relationship since they joined forces earlier this year. The two parties are heading toward another clash over the deadline for a new budget, which, if not passed by December 23, will automatically disband the Knesset and force new elections.

In the coalition deal, Likud and Blue and White agreed to pass a budget running through 2021. Netanyahu, however, is now insisting on separate budgets for 2020 and 2021, with a failure to pass a budget allowing him to avoid handing over the premiership to Gantz.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, seen during a visit in northern Israel, on October 27, 2020. (David Cohen/ FLASH90)

Those present at the Sunday meeting were said to be divided into two camps, those in favor of exiting the government and calling new elections, and those who fear that doing so would only result in a stable right-wing government.

MKs Ram Shefa, Miki Haimovich, and Assaf Zamir were in favor of immediately pulling out, arguing that if they could not trust the prime minister, there was no point in staying in the coalition government, the report said.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi warned that if Blue and White were to give in over the budget, it would mean the end of the party.

“I understand that he [Netanyahu] will never give the rotation to Benny,” Ashkenazi said, “and therefore we need to break it up now.”

MK Omer Yankelevich, Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper, and Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata opposed, preferring to stay in the government, while warning that the alternative would be a right-wing government led by Netanyahu and nationalist Yamina party chief MK Naftali Bennett, whose popularity has surged in recent polls.

“We have a responsibility,” Tropper said, while Yankelevich warned that going to elections at the current time would be “suicidal.”

Gantz told the gathering that if he could find a way to make the government work, he would remain, “and if not, I am prepared to pay with my seat.”

He said he would try to decide in the coming two weeks, apparently indicating that his party would not support no-confidence votes in the Knesset during that period.

Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper, right, with Defense Minister Benny Gantz as they speak to the media outside Gantz’s home, during a protest of workers from the culture and art industry in Rosh Ha’ayin, on August 9, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Likud party responded in a statement that “this is not the time for division. This is not the time for politics,” the report said.

Yamina said Monday it would back a bill by opposition leader MK Yair Lapid to dissolve the Knesset and hold new general elections, while criticizing Blue and White for remaining in the coalition despite the looming budget crisis.

While Likud has insisted that the failure to pass the budget stems from professional difficulties and lack of cooperation from Blue and White, a top ally of Netanyahu’s in the party acknowledged last month that there were political considerations behind the foot-dragging.

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