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Katz slams own party leader Netanyahu, Gantz for last coalition’s lack of budget

Ex-Treasury chief faults ‘insane clause’ in the ill-fated deal that said former PM didn’t have to hand over premiership if elections were called due to failure to pass budget

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Likud MK Israel Katz speaks during a Conference of Heads of Local Authorities, in Ramat Negev, southern Israel, July 22, 2021. (Flash90)
Likud MK Israel Katz speaks during a Conference of Heads of Local Authorities, in Ramat Negev, southern Israel, July 22, 2021. (Flash90)

Likud MK Israel Katz, the previous finance minister, on Monday blamed his own party’s leader, ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz for the failure of their short-lived power-sharing government to pass a budget.

“Because of Bibi and Gantz there is no budget, because their agreement included an insane clause that said if the budget does not pass there is no rotation [of the premiership],” Katz, a senior member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, told Radio 103FM, using the ex-prime minister’s nickname.

A failure to pass a budget was the sole scenario in the coalition deal between Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White under which Netanyahu would not have to step aside as premier if new elections were called. The coalition agreement stated that if a two-year 2020-21 budget failed to pass, elections would automatically take place.

Blue and White sought to pass a two-year budget, claiming that Netanyahu was seeking to split the budgets for 2020 and 2021 in order to leave himself a window to bring down the government over the 2021 budget before Gantz took over as premier.

Katz said Gantz’s insistence that a two-year budget be passed — as agreed on in the coalition deal — “ensnared” the budget.

“The political paralysis prevented the passage of the budget,” he said.

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz face away from each other during the swearing in of the 24th Knesset. (Knesset Spokesperson’s Office)

As finance minister, Katz was instrumental in delaying any progress on the budget but was seen by some having been pressured by Netanyahu to hold up the process.

Before two tumultuous political years that saw three elections and ongoing gridlock, the last approved budget was for 2018-2019. Since 2019, the budget has therefore been operating on a “continuation” mechanism based on the previous financial plan.

Katz’s criticism came a week after the cabinet voted to approve a national budget for the first time in three years.

After approving the budget, which must still be passed in the Knesset, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett derided the previous government for its failure to do so.

“We’ve done in 36 hours what you didn’t do in 36 months — we passed a budget,” Bennett said during a heated Knesset plenary session last Monday, addressing the opposition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, listens to then-Foreign Minister Israel, now Finance Minister, Israel Katz during the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, October 27, 2019. (Gali Tibbon/Pool Photo via AP)

This is not the first time that Katz, a key contender to lead the Likud after Netanyahu, has criticized the leader of his party since it lost power following the March election.

Last month, Katz said that he would have had no problem putting together a right-wing coalition following the last elections had Netanyahu relinquished the party leadership.

Katz had previously been reported to say that he had suggested Netanyahu temporarily step aside to enable the formation of a right-wing government, since former Likud lawmaker Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party had said it could join forces with Likud if it wasn’t led by Netanyahu.

In an interview with Channel 12 news, Katz asserted that had he been given the chance to assemble a coalition, he “definitely” would have succeeded in doing so.

“I think I was right on this, and it’s too bad that didn’t happen. But Netanyahu decided that he will go on to be opposition leader and we respect this,” Katz said, adding that he would only contend for the leadership of the party when Netanyahu decides to no longer seek to win back the premiership from Bennett.

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