Gantz urges Netanyahu to avert budget ‘disaster,’ warns early elections nearing

Defense minister says hourglass running out, and new vote will be called if no budget or functioning government; opposition leader Lapid challenges him ‘not to fold as usual’

Defense Minister Benny Gantz seen in the Knesset on November 10, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz seen in the Knesset on November 10, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz implored Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday to pass a state budget, accusing him of dragging his feet and potentially harming the country.

If no budget is passed by late December, the government will automatically dissolve. Netanyahu is widely believed to be stalling on the budget in order to call snap elections and avoid an agreed-upon handover of power next year to Gantz, who leads the Blue and White party.

“The citizens of Israel are looking at us,” Gantz said during a Knesset session to approve a normalization deal with Bahrain. “They are looking for a government that will make peace at home, a functioning government that will serve them during the most difficult crisis we’ve faced in decades.”

“You know very well that I extended my hand to you despite many difficulties,” Gantz continued. “I did this to fight the coronavirus and prevent the dangers of a civil war. I joined as a partner [in the government] for the sake of the lives, health and livelihoods of Israelis — not as an accomplice in an economic and social crime against them.

Benny Gantz speaking in the Knesset on November 10, 2020. (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset)

“You and I know well that the treasury has a nearly completed budget ready for 2021 and I won’t allow you to block it,” added Gantz.

He said time was running out on the budget. “It’s in your hands whether to prevent an economic and social disaster and to do the right thing for the citizens of Israel.”

Speaking later during a visit to Jerusalem city hall, Gantz warned that “the hourglass is running out,” and Israel would soon be headed for another round of elections.

“If there is no budget and no functioning government, we’ll probably go to elections,” he said, according to his spokesman.

“If both conditions are fulfilled, there won’t be elections, and if not, then there probably will,” he said.

Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid challenged Gantz, who has addressed Netanyahu publicly on the budget issue for weeks, to back up his words with action.

“Okay Gantz, I believe you that Netanyahu is carrying out an ‘economic crime against the citizens of Israel’ but are you going to do something about it or fold as is usual for you?” he tweeted.

Yesh Atid head MK Yair Lapid speaks at the Knesset plenum on October 28, 2020. (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset)

In October, Gantz escalated his attacks on Netanyahu for stalling on the state budget, saying that failure to pass a budget would be “a crime against the state and its citizens.”

Gantz said that even new elections would be preferable to the current situation, and suggested that he could try to form an alternative government with opposition parties.

Israel saw three inconclusive elections in the space of 15 months as Gantz tried to oust Netanyahu before the two finally agreed to form a unity government last June, citing the need to combine forces against the coronavirus outbreak and end public discord.

On Sunday the Kan public broadcaster reported that Gantz met with the leader of the opposition right-wing Yamina party, Naftali Bennett, to discuss the possibility of dissolving the government and triggering a new vote.

Gantz reportedly believes Netanyahu won’t keep his promise to hand over the premiership in November 2021 as per the power-sharing agreement they signed, and is frustrated by the continued delays in passing the state budget for this year and next, which would all but guarantee he would become prime minister.

Members of Blue and White have also reportedly met with Lapid in order to coordinate their moves.

The Knesset last passed a state budget in March 2018, which was in force until the end of 2019. The lack of a comprehensive budget law in 2020 has left many ministries struggling with unexpected budget shortfalls and made it difficult to plan ahead. Many organizations, including those that ran the largest programs for at-risk youth in the country, were forced to close for part of the year as government support dried up. Some treasury officials have warned that Israel’s credit rating with international lending agencies could be hurt.

Benny Gantz, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on November 10, 2020. (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset spokesperson)

Israel has limped through 2020 without a state budget, even though the coalition agreement signed by Blue and White and Likud in April agreed that a two-year 2020-21 budget would be passed in the summer.

To prevent either side from bringing down the government, the power-sharing deal stipulates that if one side triggers a coalition collapse, the other automatically receives the premiership for the three months leading up to an election as well as the transition period in its wake.

But one of the few loopholes in that deal says this failsafe does not occur if the sides fail to pass a budget, leading to early elections.

Netanyahu has demanded a single-year budget, in contravention of the deal, citing the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Blue and White suspects he is attempting to wiggle out of the power-sharing deal and to leave himself a window to bring down the government during 2021 budget talks next year.

The initial budget deadline had been in August, with a failure to pass the 2020-2021 budget by then requiring the Knesset to dissolve. But Likud and Blue and White agreed to a last-minute compromise that gave the parties until December 23.

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