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Gantz ally: If Netanyahu calls elections ‘we’ll ensure he won’t be PM’

Minister Izhar Shay says Likud trying to bring down government by holding budget hostage; Likud’s Sa’ar quits Knesset panel, says it’s become rubber stamp

Izhar Shay poses at the Knesset, on April 29, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Izhar Shay poses at the Knesset, on April 29, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

A minister for the Blue and White party warned Saturday that, should Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu break for fresh elections in the coming months, the party will ensure that he steps down from office in the interim period and will work to prevent his reelection.

Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay accused the Likud party of refusing to put together a budget for next year, which would necessitate the breakup of the government and new elections. Under a coalition deal between Likud and Blue and White, Netanyahu can remain prime minister in an interim government only if it falls due to failure to pass a budget, a move that the premier has been accused of engineering.

“Likud announced this week… that they will not prepare a [2021] budget in order to break up the government. The cat’s out of the bag. Likud plans to abuse nine million citizens, many of them their voters, for a cynical political stunt. We won’t allow it,” Shay told Channel 12’s Meet the Press.

While Shay did not expound on how his party might do this, the Kan state broadcaster quoted an unnamed Blue and White source saying that party members were in talks with Likud lawmakers over the possibility of setting up an alternative government should the current one fall.

Saturday also saw Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar quit his post in the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, saying emergency virus regulations had turned the legislature into a rubber stamp for the government.

Since the new government was formed it has been riven by squabbling between Netanyahu’s Likud and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White. The dissolution of the Knesset was only narrowly avoided in August, when legislation delaying the passage of the state budget until late December was passed at the last minute.

If the Knesset fails to pass a budget by the new date, the country would enter new elections — the fourth national vote in some two years.

Science and Technology Ministry Izhar Shay speaks to Channel 12, October 10, 2020 (screenshot)

The parties have been fighting for months on the state budget, with the prime minister insisting on not passing a 2021 budget this year — in contravention of coalition agreements.

Netanyahu says his about-face is a result of the unpredictable nature of the coronavirus pandemic, while Gantz suspects it is part of a plot to deny him the premiership next year as demanded by a rotation agreement.

The power-sharing deal between the parties stipulates that Gantz will become prime minister in November 2021. It also says that if any party breaks up the coalition to call an election, the other party automatically takes the premiership in the lead-up to a fresh national vote. However, there is a single exception to this rule, that being the state budget: Failure to pass the state budget by the legal deadline will automatically lead to elections, with the prime minister keeping his post. This is seen as a loophole allowing Netanyahu an “exit window” to elections without losing his seat.

Netanyahu currently has two such windows: The passage of the long-delayed 2020 budget by December 23, and the 2021 budget by March of next year. Missing any one of the deadlines will trigger automatic elections.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum on August 24, 2020. (Knesset Spokesperson’s Office)

Blue and White wants the 2020-2021 budget passed by December, to prevent Netanyahu from having the option of breaking for elections in March. On its side is the coalition agreement, which stipulated that a two-year budget would be passed this year.

“If Likud tries to launch an election at the expense of the citizens, the unemployed and the sick, not only will we not allow it, but Netanyahu won’t be prime minister anymore,” Shay asserted.

Likud MK Miki Zohar chairs a House Committee meeting on a bill to dissolve the Knesset and hold fresh elections on May 28, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

“Netanyahu will not be the one to call the next round. There are tools and people who will prevent him from doing so. There are people on the right who will do so. They won’t let the prime minister go to elections.”

An unnamed Blue and White source speaking to the Kan news outlet echoed the threat, saying that party members were in talks with Likud lawmakers over the possibility of setting up an alternative government should the current one fall.

The outlet also reported that the party was trying to line up support from lawmakers Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel to back a minority government that would be supported by the Joint List from outside the government as another possibility. The two, whose Derech Eretz factions forms Blue and White’s hawkish flank, have balked at that option in the past due to the presence of the Palestinian nationalist Balad party within the Joint List.

Coalition Chairman Miki Zohar told Channel 12 that Shay’s comments were “an empty threat. An alternative government is unrealistic.”

He said it was Blue and White who were “violating the coalition deal. They are pushing for elections.”

He said the party “does not have the public legitimacy to lead the country. They’ll have six Knesset seats on a good day [in a new election], if they even pass the electoral threshold.”

Polls have shown Blue and White sinking to 8-10 seats if elections were held now. Likud has also seen its prospects wither, with a poll from the channel last week showing it dropping to 26 seats, just three more than the right-wing nationalist Yamina party.

On Thursday, Gantz sent a strongly-worded open letter to Netanyahu, demanding the passage of the 2021 state budget by December.

“Any action to thwart the approval of the budget means favoring personal considerations over the well-being of the Israeli people,” Gantz said.

Likud accused Blue and White of “continuing to deal in petty politics to divert fire from their crumbling party, while the prime minister fights the coronavirus.”

Netanyahu falsely claimed in an interview with ultra-Orthodox radio station Kol Barama on Thursday that Likud and Blue and White “agreed and passed a law saying the 2020 budget will be approved in December and that, in parallel, the 2021 budget is being prepared. That is the law they approved and, unfortunately, they are reneging on that.”

Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar with supporters at a primary campaign event for the Likud leadership, in Jerusalem on December 24, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Saturday also saw Likud’s Sa’ar, Netanyahu’s top rival in the Likud party, quit his post in the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

Sa’ar said coronavirus legislation had stripped the Knesset of its power to oversee the government, and made the legislature into a rubber stamp for the cabinet’s wishes.

He noted that the emergency laws allow the Knesset to either fully approve or fully strike down government decisions, but not to debate elements of them, preventing MKs from objecting to various clauses.

As an example, he cited the decision to shutter small businesses during the national lockdown, while allowing gatherings of 10 people in indoor spaces under non-work conditions.

“I no longer see a point in my membership in the committee,” Sa’ar said.

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