Gantz stands ground on 2-year budget, says new elections would be irresponsible

Defense minister says no date for annexation, Israel is not responsible for every blast in Iran; finance minister insists immediate budget needed to kickstart economy

Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Sunday stood his ground on the need for a two-year budget despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reported threats that Israel will go to fresh elections if the government fails to pass the one-year budget he wants.

“It is irresponsible to operate from a program that does not see the entire period as a whole. It is not professionally correct,” he told the Kan public broadcaster. “What does Israel need at this time of instability? We must look at the [next] year and a half together.”

He sent the same message in an interview with Army Radio.

“We don’t know what kind of reality will develop in the coming months, but we need a stable economic plan,” Gantz said. “Going to elections at this time would be irresponsible. I’m convinced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands this and I believe we will find the way to stabilize the government.”

Then-Foreign Minister Israel Katz at an emergency meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on February 13, 2020. (Flash90)

Finance Minister Israel Katz in response told Kan that a short-term budget was exactly what the economy needed.

“From an economic standpoint, we need an immediate budget. It is impossible to know what will be and therefore it is impossible to prepare a budget for next year,” Katz said. “All economists are saying we need to make a budget for this year now so that we can start the economy. It’s perfectly clear from an economic point of view why a budget is needed right now.”

Under the coalition deal between Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White, the parties agreed to pass a two-year budget. Netanyahu, however, is now seeking a one-year budget amid the coronavirus pandemic, potentially allowing him to trigger new elections around next year’s budget and bypassing a power-sharing deal with Gantz. The Blue and White leader has insisted his refusal to go with a one-year budget has nothing to do with that scenario.

According to Channel 12 news, Netanyahu has told associates he’s “determined” to bring a budget covering only the remainder of 2020 for government approval on the week beginning July 12.

The report came a day after Channel 12 said Netanyahu threatened new elections during a cabinet meeting, incensed by Gantz’s call for further handling of the pandemic response to be shifted to the Defense Ministry.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

The push for a one-year budget has led to the suggestion by some that Netanyahu is looking for a way to end his partnership with Gantz’s Blue and White party, prompting another national election that is expected to greatly benefit him.

In the interview with Army Radio, Gantz also discussed the timing of a planned West Bank annexation. Although he has never made his views on the matter clear, the Blue and White leader does appear to have increasingly warmed to the idea since becoming a member of the government slated to carry it out.

“We don’t have a reference date. We said beginning July 1, and that has passed, but there is no end date,” he told Army Radio.

Netanyahu’s government had set July 1 as the date it could begin implementing the parts of US President Donald Trump’s peace proposal that refer to an Israeli annexation, but on Wednesday the Prime Minister’s Office said he would continue to discuss the possible annexation of parts of the West Bank with the US administration.

Last week Gantz told US diplomats that annexation moves should not be rushed through and should wait until after Israel deals with more pressing issues. “July 1 is not a sacred date,” Gantz told Trump’s peace envoy Avi Berkowitz, a source close to Gantz said to The Times of Israel. “Dealing with the coronavirus and its socioeconomic and health consequences is the more pressing issue that needs to be tended to right now.”

This photo released Thursday, July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows a building after it was damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

The defense minister on Sunday was also asked about a series of mysterious blasts in Iran that prompted Tehran to issue a warning to Israel and the US earlier this week.

“Everyone can be suspicious of us all the time,” Gantz said. “But not every event that happens in Iran is connected to us. We will do everything possible to prevent Iran from spreading terror and weapons, but I do not refer to any individual event,” he said.

An Israeli TV report Friday night said that Israel was bracing for a possible Iranian retaliation as officials in Tehran suggested on Friday that a mystery fire and explosion at the Natanz nuclear facility could have been caused by an Israeli cyberattack.

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