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Gantz said looking at pushing bill to ban Netanyahu from running in election

Blue and White party reportedly sees move as a safeguard against PM sending country to fresh elections over budget dispute

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz hold a press conference in Tel Aviv on July 27, 2020. (Tal Shahar/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz hold a press conference in Tel Aviv on July 27, 2020. (Tal Shahar/Pool/Flash90)

Confidants of Blue and White leader Defense Minister Benny Gantz are looking at potentially passing a bill to prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from running for office due to his criminal trial should the two fail to reach an agreement on the national budget, a development that would trigger elections, Channel 13 reported Tuesday.

The report came amid increased talk about the unity government, which was only sworn in in May, drawing to an end.

Netanyahu’s Likud party is currently at loggerheads with Blue and White over whether to pass a one-year budget, as Netanyahu insists, or the two-year budget pushed Gantz and that is mandated in the coalition deal signed by the two.

Such legislation would need to be passed before August 25. If a budget is not passed by then, the Knesset will automatically be dissolved and new elections will be called for November, in what would be the fourth round of voting in less than two years.

Legislation to prevent Netanyahu running would have to be passed before the dissolution of the Knesset, a difficult but feasible prospect, the Channel 13 report said.

The threat of such legislation is also aimed at preventing Likud from giving its support to a bill, proposed by the opposition right-wing Yamina party, that would limit the power of the High Court Justice to strike down laws passed in the Knesset, the report said. Blue and White is against the bill and is hoping to at least force Likud to not back it, if not to actually agree to oppose the legislation. The so-called override clause is due to be brought to a Knesset reading on Wednesday.

The Walla news site reported Tuesday evening that Likud lawmakers will skip the vote on the override clause.

Blue and White’s leaders are said to believe Netanyahu is manufacturing the budget crisis in order to force elections and prevent Gantz from becoming prime minister in November 2021 as stipulated by the coalition agreement.

Netanyahu denies he wants elections.

MK Miki Zohar during an arrangements committee meeting at the Knesset on January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Senior officials in both the United Torah Judaism and Shas parties were quoted Tuesday by the Kan public broadcaster as saying that if Netanyahu refuses to compromise on the state budget, they will refuse to publicly support the premier as they have done in recent elections. They also wouldn’t commit to backing Netanyahu as prime minister after the election, potentially denying him the necessary support of 61 lawmakers for a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

The prime minister is now looking at transferring NIS 400 million ($117 million) to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas in order to lessen the parties’ opposition to new elections, Channel 12 reported.

Likud faction chairman and coalition whip Miki Zohar dismissed the threat that ultra-Orthodox parties will not remain in the bloc of right-wing and religious parties led by Likud under Netanyahu.

“I have no doubt that the right-wing bloc will be preserved,” he said. “I don’t think there is a chance of cooperation with left-wing elements.”

On Monday, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who leads Shas, warned Likud and Blue and White to ease up on threats of breaking up the coalition.

“The Israeli people will not forgive us if we go to elections,” he said in an interview with Channel 12. “The people don’t understand [this dispute] and want us to work together.”

Deri, who was instrumental in helping bring Netanyahu and Gantz together into a unity coalition, said he was continuing to try and mediate.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri in the Knesset on March 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Amid deep distrust between the two parties, Gantz has vowed not to back down from his demand for a two-year budget, as stipulated by the coalition agreement.

In seeking to renege on his coalition deal with Gantz and pass a budget covering only the remainder of the current year, Netanyahu has been citing the uncertainty created by the coronavirus crisis, but many see it as a way for him to back out of the power-sharing arrangement he signed with Gantz.

On Monday, Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis warned that if the Blue and White party does not back a single-year budget as pushed by his Likud party, Likud would seek to replace the unity coalition with an alternative government of 61 MKs.

Likud “isn’t going to blink” in the standoff with Blue and White over the budget, Akunis asserted.

Netanyahu is widely believed to be doubling down on the single-year budget as a way of leaving himself the option of dissolving the government next year by failing to pass a 2021 budget — the only option that, according to his complex and convoluted deal with Gantz, who is also alternate prime minister, will allow him to send the country to a new election without Gantz automatically becoming prime minister in the interim.

The unity government, formed after three successive elections proved inconclusive and finally sworn in on May 17, has since been beset by wrangling and blocking maneuvers between the right-wing Likud and centrist Blue and White.

On Sunday, coalition whip Zohar told the Kan public broadcaster, “There is a gaping chasm between us and Blue and White on many topics at an ideological level.”

“It is a like a couple that wants to divorce and that at any moment” will begin proceedings to end the marriage, he said. “That is the feeling at the moment: that it doesn’t matter what we do, it is going to end between us and Blue and White.”

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