Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Saturday called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “schemer and liar,” and insisted he won’t compromise on his demand that the premier honor their agreement for a budget to be passed through 2021, saying a failure to do so will lead to a new election, the fourth in two years.
“Either there will be a budget and a functioning government or we’ll go to elections,” he told Channel 12 news.
Gantz’s Blue and White party helped pass a proposal this week in an initial vote to dissolve the Knesset and hold fresh elections, after saying he could no longer support the government given its failure to pass a budget.
“We’re going to elections because of Netanyahu. If not [for him], there would have been a budget long ago,” he said Saturday. “You don’t run a state with a budget for a week, Netanyahu wasted half a year.”
He added: “I’m done believing Netanyahu.”
Gantz was referring to Likud’s desire to pass a budget later this month for 2020 only, even though the year is over, rather than honor the parties’ coalition deal and pass a budget for 2020 and 2021. The government has until December 23 to pass a budget for 2020 at least, or the Knesset will be dissolved with or without the dissolution legislation currently going through Knesset pipelines. Likud and Blue and White had reached a last-minute deal in August to push off the budget deadline, but no progress had been made since then.
Under their coalition deal, Netanyahu’s Likud party and Blue and White agreed to approve a budget running through next year. The premier, however, has been insisting that separate budgets be passed for 2020 and 2021, claiming this is necessary due to the uncertainty created by the pandemic.
Blue and White, meanwhile, notes that the pandemic was already in full swing when the sides sealed their coalition deal in May, and believes Netanyahu actually seeks to delay the 2021 budget because a loophole in the deal would enable him to engineer a crisis over the budget next year and dissolve his power-sharing agreement with Gantz without having to hand over the premiership. Under the deal, Gantz is supposed to become prime minister in November 2021.
In a separate interview with Channel 13 news, Gantz further hit out at Netanyahu over the budget and the premier’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as well as for keeping him and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi out of the loop on recent normalization agreements with Arab states.
“I bring something different to the Israeli public. If it wants schemers and liars, then it should vote for [Netanyahu]. I didn’t come [to politics] to stab people in the back,” said Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff who entered politics before the first of three inconclusive, rapid-fire elections starting in 2019.
Gantz was also asked in the interviews about his intentions if elections are held, with Blue and White languishing in the polls.
“We’ll be the biggest party and the axis around which the next government is formed,” he asserted to Channel 12 news.
He ruled out a joint run with opposition leader Yair Lapid, who was his former No. 2 in Blue and White. Lapid broke with Gantz over his decision to join a government led by Netanyahu.
“There’s no possibility of working with Lapid in one faction. I need to lead the [center-left] camp, Lapid can’t form a government,” Gantz said.
He was also asked by Channel 13 whether he would team up with fellow former IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, who is reportedly considering taking the plunge into politics.
“I speak with Gadi, he’s a principled person and has plentiful political and security experience. What happens between me and him will stay between me and him,” he said.
According to a Channel 12 report, Eisenkot is unsure whether he’ll enter politics, with the network defining the odds as “50-50 at best.” The unsourced report said Eisenkot would not team up with Lapid, who is opposed by the ultra-Orthodox; with Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett, whose party is too far to the right; or Gantz, because he considers the Blue and White leader’s tenure a disappointment.
Eisenkot also prefers to be in a center-right party, the network said.
A poll published Wednesday by Channel 13 said a party led by Eisenkot would be the third-largest in the Knesset, with 15 seats. The survey forecast Blue and White would pick up 10 seats if Eisenkot doesn’t run, but slump to eight if he does.
Gantz’s comments Saturday came ahead of his planned meeting Sunday with Finance Minister Israel Katz of Likud, who is to present him with a budget proposal, in a last-ditch effort to try and avoid sending Israelis to the ballot box for the fourth time in two years.
“I say clearly now, it’s either an immediate budget or elections,” Gantz said in a video message published Friday to his Facebook account.
While he said elections “are not the right thing for the country… they are far preferable to a paralysis of government” and to politics determining the management “of one of the worst crises of health and economy we have known.”
Gantz and Netanyahu’s coalition has been in a near-constant crisis since it was formed in May.
“Even though I knew who I was getting into government with, I thought he too had limits he wouldn’t pass,” Gantz said. “I’m afraid Netanyahu is more concerned with his trial than his country.”
Netanyahu is facing trial in three criminal cases on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He has denied any wrongdoing. Much of the coalition tension has centered on Blue and White’s belief the prime minister is seeking to undermine law enforcement and democratic institutions to improve his legal prospects.