Blue and White party leader and Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Tuesday that he can no longer support the government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his party will vote Wednesday in support of a preliminary reading of a bill to dissolve the Knesset and call early elections.
Describing Netanyahu as “a serial breaker of promises” in a prime-time televised address, Gantz accused the prime minister of lying to the public when he agreed to form a unity coalition between Likud and Blue and White, an agreement in which Netanyahu promised to hand over the premiership to Gantz in November 2021.
“I entered the government with a heavy heart but with a whole heart,” Gantz, who also serves as alternate prime minister, said regarding his May decision to form a coalition with Netanyahu.
“Netanyahu promised unity; he said there wouldn’t be tricks and games. But he doesn’t fulfill his promises and the public ultimately pays,” he said. “Netanyahu didn’t lie to me; he lied to you,” Gantz told Israelis. “He didn’t dupe me; he duped the citizens of Israel.”
“Netanyahu has decided to take apart the government and lead us back to elections,” Gantz charged, banging the podium, and calling foot-dragging over the budget “an economic terror attack.”
Announcing that his Blue and White party would support a Wednesday preliminary motion to disband the Knesset and call new elections, Gantz asserted that nobody could believe any further promises from the prime minister.
Blue and White’s support is expected to be enough to pass the motion, though it must still go through several stages, which could take weeks or longer, before it becomes official and early elections are called. Two small coalition parties, Labor and Derech Eretz, have already said they will support the opposition bill. If the process is completed, the Knesset is likely to dissolve in late December, with elections somewhere between March and June 2021 — the fourth in less than two years.
Despite the fierce speech which rang of electioneering, Gantz ended his address by offering Netanyahu an opening to avoid the Knesset being dissolved, if he immediately acts to pass the 2020-2021 budget as agreed to in the coalition deal.
“I will do all I can so that the country will have a budget and so that I can continue to serve it,” he said.
If elections are to be held, Gantz vowed to run again at the head of Blue and White and build a unity government “in which Netanyahu will play no part.” Months of polls indicate, however, that he would be in no position to do so.
Likud and Blue and White have been at loggerheads almost since the inception of their power-sharing coalition in May, but ties between the two have hit a nadir in recent weeks as a budget deadline nears. If the budget isn’t approved by December 23, the government automatically falls and new elections will be held in March 2021. Gantz has accused Netanyahu of refusing to pass the 2020 and 2021 state budget in one go — as per the coalition agreement — in an attempt to prevent Gantz from becoming prime minister in November 2021, also as per the coalition agreement.
The only scenario in which Gantz won’t become premier (apart from Blue and White causing the fall of the government) is if the government dissolves due to failure to pass the budget by the deadline.
In a statement released moments before Gantz’s speech, Netanyahu urged his defense minister to stay in the coallition, alleging that Blue and White was “being dragged behind [Yesh Atid leader Yair] Lapid and [Yamina leader Naftali] Bennett.”
“This is not the time for elections — this is the time for unity,” the prime minister said.
He also repeated his accusation that Blue and White was working against the government from inside the coalition and breaking agreements, but said they should “put that to the side.”
Gantz on Monday ordered his party to prepare proposals for a number of contentious laws that do not have coalition backing.
Blue and White said Gantz had instructed the party to put forward three legislative proposals aimed at promoting equal rights: “Basic Law: Equality,” which Gantz said “aimed to enshrine the right to equality and the prohibition of discrimination”; “the surrogacy law,” which would “evenly expand the circle of those entitled to surrogacy, expand the circle of women who can serve as surrogates, and regulate the possibility of surrogacy outside Israel”; and “Basic Law: The Declaration of Independence,” which would require judges to “interpret all Israeli legislation, including other Basic Laws, in light of the Declaration of Independence as a constitutional document.”
Bringing the Blue and White proposals to the Knesset without specific agreement from Likud violates a clause in the coalition agreements signed between the two parties.
“What we need now is a U-turn from politics for the good of Israeli citizens,” Netanyahu said in his statement before Gantz’s Tuesday speech.
Most analysts believe that while Netanyahu wants early elections, he prefers they be timed later in the year.
In a statement released after the address, opposition leader Yair Lapid praised Gantz for his decision to vote in favor of dissolving the Knesset.
“Israel needs a government that will work for the public. An efficient government that will focus on life itself, on the real problems of real people, on small businesses, on the unemployed, on healthcare. Not a government focused on petty politics and corrupt deals and press conferences,” Lapid said.
Coalition whip Miki Zohar, a close Netanyahu ally, said Gantz’s speech was “the start of his election campaign.”
“His personal attack on Netanyahu was a new low,” Zohar told Army Radio. “Blue and White is dissolving the Knesset and dismantling the government for a political caprice.”
Gantz was also criticized from the left, with Meretz chief Nitzan Horowitz telling the station that “without the betrayal of some parts of [our] camp, foremost by Gantz, we could have replaced Netanyahu.”
Meanwhile, Yamina leader Bennett is reportedly courting the defection of a Likud MK who won cheers and jeers for her populist moves to rein in the government’s efforts to impose coronavirus restrictions.
Walla news reported just before Gantz’s speech that Bennett had offered Yifat Shasha-Biton the number 2 slot on his Yamina slate. A source familiar with the matter told the news outlet that Bennett was willing to give the lawmaker “anything she wants for her joining.”
Polls have shown Bennett nipping at the heels of Netanyahu in a new vote, partially on the strength of his efforts to hammer the government over its coronavirus policy. His party is expected to secure at least 20 Knesset seats, 15 more than he currently has.
Shasha-Biton heads the ad-hoc Knesset committee charged with reviewing and approving coronavirus restrictions passed by the government. She was threatened with punishment from the party after she helped overturned the government’s moves to keep gyms, pools and other venues closed earlier this year.