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Gantz: If Netanyahu doesn’t get a grip, Knesset will disband for new elections

Blue and White chief says PM must allow coronavirus cabinet to make policy decisions. If not, ‘Israelis will know who dragged them to elections’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Blue and White Party leader Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at a party faction meeting in the Knesset, November 16, 2020. (Elad Malka/Blue and White)
Blue and White Party leader Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at a party faction meeting in the Knesset, November 16, 2020. (Elad Malka/Blue and White)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned Monday that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t “get a grip” and allow the government to make policy decisions, the Knesset will disband and new elections will be called, in what would be the fourth round of voting within two years.

Speaking at the start of his Blue and White party’s weekly faction meeting, Gantz expressed frustration at cabinet stagnation in making decisions on dealing with the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and the easing of a national lockdown ordered to curb the virus spread.

“We cannot have another day without making decisions,” he said, a day after a meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet ended following seven hours of debate, without ministers approving any rollback of lockdown measures nor any new restrictions.

“If Netanyahu does not get a grip, this Knesset will disperse,” Gantz, who is also alternate prime minster, said in an explicit threat to the premier. “If we go to election, the country’s citizens will know who dragged them there.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a televised statement on the signing of a deal to purchase Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, at IDF military headquarters in Tel Aviv, November 13, 2020. At left is Health Minister Yuli Edelstein. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Netanyahu reportedly became impatient during the coronavirus cabinet meeting when other ministers and government agencies did not giving full backing to his proposals, including imposing a countrywide nighttime curfew.

“We have an extraordinary talent for dragging out these debates,” Netanyahu said, according to leaks from the meeting carried by media outlets.

“I am cutting this debate now,” the prime minister announced at one point, saying that he and Gantz would meet privately to discuss what measures should be taken and propose them at a follow-up coronavirus cabinet meeting on Monday evening. At another unsuccessful meeting last week it had been decided to push off all decisions until this week.

Speaking Monday, Gantz laid out his party’s position on a number of key issues regarding the lockdown exit, specifically giving backing to renewing the “traffic light” color-coding system that identifies virus infection levels ranging from green, for low infection rates, up a scale topped by orange and red for the areas with the highest morbidity.

The Blue and White chief said that in green cities, he would support a gradual reopening of the education system including classes for grades 5-6 and 11-12, and the opening of markets and malls. In red cities, the party will back imposing local lockdowns until infection rates improve.

Police at a temporary checkpoint on a nearly empty road outside Jerusalem’s Old City on September 19, 2020, during a nationwide coronavirus lockdown. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a bold step aimed at creating leverage over the prime minister, Gantz also said that he he had instructed party member MK Eitan Ginzburg to gather together “all of the relevant bills that will advance equality, fight corruption and other values that are important to us.”

The move would potentially include putting forward legislation to limit the term of the prime minister or prevent a prime minister from serving under indictment — proposals that would likely have the backing of a majority of the Knesset if supported by Blue and White but would almost certainly result in the breakup of the coalition.

Gantz’s threat to Netanyahu comes against a backdrop of increasing rhetoric from Blue and White lawmakers — led by Gantz himself — indicating that the current unity government is coming to an end over the failure to pass a state budget.

If no budget is passed by late December the government will automatically dissolve. Netanyahu is widely believed to be stalling on the budget in order to call snap elections and avoid an agreed-upon handover of power next year to Gantz. Israel held three rounds of elections between April 2019 and March 2020.

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