Defense Minister Benny Gantz has escalated his attacks on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for stalling on a state budget for this year and next, saying that failure to pass a budget would be “a crime against the state and its citizens.”
Gantz said that even new elections would be preferable to the current situation, and suggested he could try to form an alternative government with opposition parties.
Gantz’s Blue and White party and Netanyahu’s Likud have been at loggerheads virtually since their unity government was formed in May, but their differences have intensified in recent weeks as the already-extended deadline for passing a budget approaches.
Netanyahu reportedly has prevented Finance Ministry officials from introducing a new one. Critics accuse him of holding the budget hostage because of a clause in the coalition agreement that allows him to remain transitional leader if the government collapses due to failure to pass a budget. If a budget for 2021 is approved, Gantz is guaranteed to take over as prime minister in November 2021, as per the coalition agreement.
On Wednesday, Gantz, normally a reserved and mild-tempered politician, launched a blistering attack on his top coalition partner, speaking to the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.
“Netanyahu is endangering Israel’s economic future,” he charged. “If he doesn’t pass a budget it would be a crime against the state and its citizens.
“All of Israel’s economists — including the Bank of Israel chief, senior finance officials and former Finance Ministry executives — are united in saying there is no option other than passing a 2021 budget,” Gantz said. “If next year’s budget isn’t advanced, Likud won’t be able to explain to the citizens why he didn’t look out for their future but rather for his own.”
Yedioth reported that in recent talks with his associates, Gantz said he wouldn’t rule out forming an alternative government to avoid elections, even if that means temporarily nominating Moshe Ya’alon of the opposition Yesh Atid-Telem party as prime minister.
“Everything is on the table. There are moves happening under the radar, and there are opportunities also within this Knesset,” Gantz was quoted as telling the unnamed associates.
“One thing is sure: We, Blue and White, know that dragging out this government without a budget is a greater damage to the Israeli nation than elections.”
The two parties formed a unity government to tackle the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year after three inconclusive elections, but the government’s tenure has been marred by constant fighting and dysfunctionality.
Blue and White’s leadership has said that new elections will be held if a state budget for 2020-2021 is not passed by the end of October, although it remains to be seen whether it will act on that ultimatum.
Lawmakers in the Blue and White party earlier this week launched a coordinated campaign accusing Netanyahu’s party of blocking much-needed reforms and refusing to pass the annual budget.
Likud responded by accusing Blue and White politicians of playing politics.
Israel has limped through 2020 without a state budget, even though the coalition agreement signed by Blue and White and Likud in April provided for a two-year 2020-21 budget to be passed in the summer.
Blue and White has already reportedly warned that should the dysfunction in the coalition continue and a state budget for 2021 fail to advance in the Knesset by the end of October, it will “act as an opposition” within the government.
The prime minister is currently on trial for fraud and breach of trust in three cases, and bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing and claims to be a victim of an attempted political coup involving the police, state prosecutors under Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s authority, left-wing opposition, and the media.