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Gantz: If government fails to function, pass budget, I’ll weigh options

Blue and White chairman says he wants a 2020-21 state budget, indicates elections could be ahead

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, both wearing protective mask due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 7, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/Pool Photo via AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, both wearing protective mask due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 7, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/Pool Photo via AP)

Blue and White chairman and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz warned on Saturday evening that should the dysfunction in the coalition government continue and a state budget for 2021 fail to materialize in the coming weeks, he would weigh his options.

“The next few weeks will signal to me if there is an intention [on the government’s part] to work for the citizens,” Ganz told Channel 12 on Saturday.” If this does not happen… if the government does not function, I will have no choice but to think of the coming steps.”

Blue and White joined the government so it could “function in an emergency situation,” Gantz said in reference to his surprise decision in April to join a Benjamin Netanyahu-led coalition, weeks into Israel’s first COVID-19 lockdown. The decision followed three rounds of national elections in which no clear winner emerged.

“What we are finding is that the government is not functioning. We are fighting from within and will continue to fight for the government to function,” Gantz said, adding that the priorities of the country should supersede those of Netanyahu or the Likud. The Blue and White Chairman said he wants to see a government that functions as a coalition made up of its different parties, that prepares a state budget, and convenes its ministerial committee on legislative matters. “If not — I will weigh all alternatives,” he said.

Gantz did not elaborate on what options lay before him but indicated that new elections, though undesirable, could be an option.

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

Gantz has gone head-to-head with Netanyahu in recent months over the budget. Israel has limped through 2020 with a state budget, and the coalition agreement provided for a two-year 2020-21 budget to be passed in the summer. The initial budget deadline had been in August, with a failure to pass it by then requiring the Knesset to dissolve. But Likud and Blue and White agreed to a last-minute compromise that gave the parties 100 more days. That expires in November.

This week, Channel 13 reported that Gantz will not agree to a further delay in passing the state budget, even if it means another national election.

The unsourced report did not give further details, saying only that it was in response to its report Thursday that Likud MK and Netanyahu ally Shlomo Karhi is planning to introduce legislation that would grant another extension to the deadline.

Channel 13 noted that Karhi would not put his bill forward without approval from Netanyahu, whom critics assert is bent on preventing Gantz from becoming prime minister in November 2021, as agreed upon in their coalition deal.

Likud MK Shlomo Karhi at a Knesset committee meeting on January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

One of the few loopholes in that agreement between Netanyahu and Gantz that would prevent the Blue and White chairman from replacing Netanyahu after a year and a half would be if the parties failed to pass a budget, thus sparking early elections.

Netanyahu was reportedly considering a resort to elections at the end of the summer, but refrained from doing so while the country was still recovering from the pandemic and amid increased criticism of his leadership during the crisis.

In the months since though, cases continued to rise, forcing the country into a second, unpopular lockdown. At the same time, recent polls indicate that the popularity and trust in Netanyahu’s right-wing rival, Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett, have skyrocketed, while Netanyahu and Likud are slipping.

The troubling poll numbers evidently have Netanyahu preferring another deadline extension, rather than testing his chances by sending the country toward the fourth election in two years, and thus presumably emboldening Gantz.

Channel 13 further reported, on Friday evening, that Netanyahu has instructed Finance Minister Israel Katz to prepare a budget for 2021, and have it ready for approval by February, so that he can defuse the crisis if he wants to and seek “not to be blamed” if Israel plunges into elections again.

The Knesset last passed a state budget in March 2018, which was in force until the end of 2019. The lack of a comprehensive budget law in 2020 has left many ministries struggling with unexpected budget shortfalls and made it difficult to plan ahead. Many organizations, including those that ran the largest programs for at-risk youth in the country, were forced to close for part of the year as government support dried up. Some treasury officials have warned that Israel’s credit rating with international lending agencies could be hurt.

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

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