Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz told his faction Wednesday that the coalition was in “critical days,” less than a week before the government will be dissolved automatically if Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot agree on a path forward for the state budget.
Gantz said his party was making all efforts to solve the crisis, but said it would not compromise on its core tenets to do so.
“Netanyahu may lead to awful elections,” he said.
Blue and White and Likud have until Monday night, August 24, to either pass a state budget — practically impossible with the time left to do so — or pass a bill to delay the budget by 100 days. That bill has been approved in the first of three readings, but Likud is reported to be making various demands in order to support its final passage.
“Nothing justifies elections,” Gantz told his faction, accusing Netanyahu of “playing poker” at the expense of Israelis.
He said: “When we went with Likud to this [unity coalition] deal, we did so despite a hail of warnings we received… because during a critical time, in the midst of terrible divisions, we have a true commitment to the people, the country and society.”
But, he added, “I’m not here to solve anyone’s personal problems.”
Netanyahu has been reported to be demanding various changes to his coalition agreement with Blue and White to protect his status as his criminal trial moves forward, as well as to assert more power over the justice and law enforcement systems.
“Our willingness for compromise will be based only on adhering to the accord signed and the needs of Israel,” Gantz said.
According to Channel 12, Blue and White was meeting to review potential compromises with Likud, and to discuss how far they were willing to go to accommodate the prime minister.
Meanwhile Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett, who has been surging in recent polls over his criticism of the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, tweeted sharp criticism of Netanyahu Monday, saying: “I’m sad to see a venerable politician occupied with petty politics, instead of taking care of the needs of a suffering people.”
Bennett was responding to a news report that claimed Netanyahu has instructed allies to attack him in an effort to curb his rise in polls, in the event that a new election is called — the fourth in less than two years.
The disagreements between Likud and Blue and White are multifaceted, and are reported to have branched out from the core disagreement about the state budget itself — though its passage is the sword of Damocles that currently hangs over the government’s survival.
Gantz has insisted on passing a budget for 2020-21, as the coalition deal between the parties stipulates, while Netanyahu is insisting on a budget that only covers the rest of 2020, citing the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.
Since under the laws passed to form the coalition, failure to pass a 2021 budget by next March would force new elections, Blue and White has accused Netanyahu of deliberately attempting to violate the coalition agreement with his budget demand in order leave himself a future window to dissolve the government and avoid having to hand over the prime minister post to Gantz in November 2021, as per the deal.
Netanyahu is also reportedly demanding Gantz agree to several changes to the coalition deal unrelated to the budget. Channel 12 has reported that the premier is using the budget as leverage to pressure Gantz into agreeing to changes to the existing coalition deal between the two sides.
According to the report, Netanyahu is demanding that the accord be altered so elections are automatically called should the High Court of Justice disqualify him from serving as alternate prime minister after he hands over the premiership to Gantz in November 2021. The current deal only gives Netanyahu protection for the first six months of the government’s existence.
Netanyahu is also reportedly demanding greater power over senior appointments, including of top law enforcement officials, in contradiction to previous agreements.
An unnamed senior official in Likud lashed out on Wednesday at Blue and White over the ongoing coalition crisis, suggesting lawmakers were unlikely to stave off the collapse of the government.
“This business isn’t working. From the start I didn’t have high expectations, but I didn’t think it would be like this. It’s impossible to work,” the unnamed official said of the coalition, according to Hebrew media reports. “Will we go to elections on Monday? This government is not functioning. Continuing in the current situation is even worse than elections.”
“We have come up with a lot of ideas to solve the budget issue. So far Blue and White have not agreed to any of them,” the senior official said.
“We have made dramatic compromises for this government. We need to reach an agreement that allows an immediate solution to problems in the economy and solve all the problems stably so that we can work together and not get stuck every week in dysfunction where nothing happens.”
The official added that there have been no meetings between Likud and Blue and White officials to discuss the budget impasse since Sunday.
The senior official further accused Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi of “torpedoing” the annexation of parts of the West Bank, a plan that has been shelved after last week’s announcement of a normalization deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
“[Ashkenazi] did everything to torpedo the application of sovereignty and violated the coalition agreement. He did not miss a single conversation with an international body to brief against the application of sovereignty and spoke against it at every opportunity,” the official said.
“[Annexation] wasn’t prevented by that, but in terms of trust and the observance of the [coalition] agreement, this conduct was a violation,” the official said.
“Blue and White [members] are once again fighting the government while Netanyahu is fighting the coronavirus,” the Likud party said in a statement. “Today in the Finance Committee they stopped vital [transfers of] money to open the school year, including programs for at-risk children and children in the periphery. Blue and White must stop interfering with the prime minister passing a budget and opening the school year on time.”
Blue and White issued a statement saying that Netanyahu’s government was using the budget to curry favor ahead of the country possibly going to the polls for a fourth time.
“Likud is violating its promise of unity and stability and looking for a new excuse for elections every day. Whoever has the good of Israel in mind will work to pass a responsible budget and will not splash political money [around] to become stronger in the run-up to the election,” the party said.
“Blue and White is acting and will continue to act with only one motive: to prevent elections for a million unemployed people and for the people of Israel, as pledged.”
At a Finance Committee discussion Wednesday, coalition whip Miki Zohar, a staunch ally of Netanyahu, presented four conditions for postponing the budget deadline, including allocating money in the annual budget for ultra-Orthodox yeshivas and for religious Zionist schools and programs, as well as funding several other education programs and enabling a five percent flexibility within the budget.
Blue and White MK Eitan Ginzburg rejected the demands, saying the committee wasn’t meant to be discussing “an alternative state budget.”
The bill to delay the deadline, proposed by Derech Eretz MK Zvi Hauser, passed its first reading on Monday. It must pass three readings before it becomes law, and the Knesset Finance Committee must vote to approve it for its second and third readings.
Under the terms of the bill, the deadline would be put off by 100 days until December 3. As the bill requires changing the country’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws, it must pass with a majority of 61 out of the 120 lawmakers in the Knesset.