Gantz said checking which party MKs will abandon him if he caves to Netanyahu

Blue and White leader meets with party members to gauge reactions if elections are called, or if they are averted by him compromising on budget demands or premiership rotation

Minister of Defense Benny Gantz visits the Jerusalem Municipality on November 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Minister of Defense Benny Gantz visits the Jerusalem Municipality on November 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has been holding one-on-one meetings with his party lawmakers to check who will remain loyal to him if the coalition crisis results in early elections — or if he temporarily resolves the situation by giving in to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demands, which may include giving up on his turn at being premier, the Kan public broadcaster reported Wednesday.

Gantz has seen his party slip in election polls while media reports have said that key members of the party are threatening to ditch their leader if he compromises with Netanyahu.

Only a few of Blue and White’s 12 MKs have said they would not stick with Gantz, who is also defense minister, if he gives up on the rotation to be prime minister which he is scheduled to take up next November, according to the Kan report.

Tuesday night is the final deadline to pass the state budget, after which the Knesset automatically dissolves and early elections — the fourth in two years — will be called, likely for March.

Blue and White has been demanding that a state budget be passed for 2020 and 2021 together — as the coalition deal stipulates — in a bid to force Netanyahu and his Likud party to honor the premiership rotation clause of the unity government agreement.

However, even if Gantz gives in to Likud’s demands that only a 2020 budget be passed initially, Netanyahu is widely believed to be planning to dissolve the government anyway before the 2021 budget must be passed in March, in order to prevent Gantz from succeeding him as prime minister.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint press conference at the Ministry of Health in Jerusalem on December 9, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In another move to stave off Gantz’s turn as premier, Netanyahu two weeks ago proposed that they change the length of time each would hold office from its current planned 18 months, increasing it to 24 months each, Channel 12 news reported. Gantz rejected the idea but reportedly responded that he was willing to add another nine months to each of the terms — but only after he has already begun his turn in November.

Gantz is reportedly still trying to reach a last-ditch compromise with Netanyahu regarding the budget and the future of the government.

However, Likud is said to be demanding that Netanyahu be given another “exit point” enabling him to dissolve the government without having to hand over the premiership to Gantz, and also that Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn be fired from his post.

Gantz said Wednesday that he would oppose the demand to oust Nissenkorn, a member of his party.

Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, has previously reported that five of Blue and White’s current 14 members have been threatening to quit if Gantz ends up signing a deal with Netanyahu and delaying elections: Nissenkorn, Meirav Cohen, Asaf Zamir, Miki Haimovich and Ram Shefa.

“These people can no longer bear what is happening in this government and aren’t willing to embarrass themselves any longer,” the site quoted a politician who knows them as saying.

In addition, Zman reported Wednesday that Blue and White No.2 Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi is considering quitting the party, though sources close to the minister later denied to Hebrew media that he was planning to bolt.

A Tuesday poll showed that if elections were held Blue and White would only win six of the Knesset’s 120 seats, Channel 12 reported. It won 33 seats in March, before Gantz abandoned the party’s core promise not to sit in a coalition with Netanyahu.

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