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Gantz refuses to meet with Netanyahu on ‘vote-buying’ economic aid package

PM slams ‘irresponsible politicians, attorneys general standing against the people’ as Blue and White leader blasts plan for cash handouts to citizens, which is now stuck

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 21, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 21, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Tuesday his Blue and White party would not attend a planned meeting on a Likud-led proposal for a new economic aid package, charging that the plan’s purpose was to buy the votes of the electorate in the upcoming election.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz have been pushing the plan in recent days, saying the economy, private citizens and small businesses need a fresh injection of money to get through the next few months, beyond the unemployment payments and bimonthly stipends for businesses that are in effect until June.

However, Gantz contends that Likud’s financial plan, which includes handouts to all Israelis whose gross monthly income is below NIS 13,050 ($4,000), amounts to an attempt by the prime minister to buy public support ahead of the March 23 elections.

“To dispel any doubt, we will not hold a meeting about a fake economic plan, without sources or feasibility, whose purpose is vote-buying,” Gantz’s statement read.

A shop at the mall in the city of Bat Yam that was partially opened against government regulations, on February 11, 2021 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Netanyahu pushed back against the insinuation, saying “it is inconceivable that irresponsible politicians and bureaucrats and attorneys general will stand against the people, and won’t allow us to bring the money, and say ‘Wait a few months, whoever dies, dies.’

“We are for the people. We’ll bring you the money. We won’t stop fighting for you,” Netanyahu said.

The plan will currently not be able to advance due to the terms of the coalition deal, which requires the agreement of both sides.

Finance Minister Israel Katz at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Medical Center on December 20, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In addition, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has warned that aspects of the plan are legally problematic in the lead-up to an election. Netanyahu lashed out at the attorney general last month after Mandelblit sent Katz a letter expressing opposition to major spending plans amid elections.

The Bank of Israel has also urged the government to revise its policy, directing the funds to “growth-accelerating measures whose contribution to economic recovery will be greatest.”

Netanyahu and Gantz had already clashed on the matter at Monday’s coronavirus cabinet meeting, when the former accused the latter of holding up the plan he proposed in January and the Blue and White chief retorted, “We are not stopping an economic plan, we are stopping vote-buying.”

The announcement of the plan came despite the government not passing a budget for 2020 or 2021, with Netanyahu widely believed to have thwarted it on purpose to trigger elections and prevent the implementation of a power-sharing deal that would have seen Gantz succeed him as prime minister later this year.

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