Labor party leader Amir Peretz said on Friday he would run with Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White if the country goes to a new round of elections, as an ongoing impasse over the state budget threatens to topple the government.
Recent polls have shown Labor, which has three Knesset seats, falling well below the electoral threshold in the event of a new national vote, likely forcing it to merge with a larger faction to ensure its survival in the case of elections.
On Friday, a television report said Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting was expected to be cancelled for the second week in a row, but hinted Likud and Blue and White parties may be approaching a compromise to shore up the faltering coalition.
Peretz, who serves as economy minister, called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to abide by the coalition deal and agree to Gantz’s demand for a budget through 2021.
“We have a very clear coalition deal,” Peretz said in an interview with Channel 12.
If the sides do not come to an agreement, he said, “I will run with Blue and White.”
“We will definitely get together a shared list of Blue and White and Labor. I feel very comfortable there, with all the people who used to be in Labor,” Peretz said, naming Blue and White ministers Avi Nissenkorn, Chili Tropper, Michael Biton and Meirav Cohen.
Peretz added: “The worldview is the same and the people are very committed.”
The once-mighty left-wing Labor party dominated Israeli politics for nearly the country’s first three decades, but has been out of power since 2001 and in the most recent elections fell to a new historic low of three seats in the 120-member parliament.
Peretz won his party’s backing to join Netanyahu’s coalition in April, upending repeated campaign promises to never serve under a prime minister facing criminal indictments. The move sparked a minor rebellion by Labor MK Merav Michaeli, who remains in the party but has been outspoken in her opposition to Netanyahu.
Meanwhile, Channel 12 reported that Sunday’s cabinet meeting will again be canceled, but that Netanyahu’s Likud and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White may be inching toward a compromise.
Last week’s extraordinary cancellation of the cabinet meeting brought the coalition crisis into sharp relief, as both parties appeared to dig in their heels amid rampant speculation that fresh elections could be around the corner over the intensifying budget brawl.
Under their coalition deal, both parties must okay the agenda for the weekly cabinet meeting, generally held on Sundays. But with no agreed-upon agenda, the meeting was called off.
Both parties cast blame on each other for the canceled meeting.
An unsourced Channel 12 report on Friday said Likud and Blue and White were continuing to try to reach an agreement to avoid a dreaded fourth vote in two years and that behind the scenes, they were making some progress.
Netanyahu and Gantz have been locked in a bitter standoff over the budget. The two agreed to pass a two-year budget covering 2020 and 2021 as part of the coalition deal between their parties that was signed in May, but the premier is now demanding a budget that only covers the rest of 2020, given the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Gantz, who also has the title of alternate prime minister, is insisting on a budget that runs through next year, citing previous agreements and insisting it would help stabilize a teetering economy. He is concerned that Netanyahu plans to use next year’s budget negotiations as an excuse to break up the government to avoid a transfer of power in November 2021, under their premiership rotation agreement.
The budget must be passed by August 25 or the unity government will fall, forcing new elections.
The focus of the talks between the parties now is a bill to postpone the passing of a two-year budget, although Netanyahu is demanding other changes to the coalition agreement, the report said.
The proposed bill gives the government an additional 100 days to approve the budget beyond the current deadline. It passed its preliminary reading on Wednesday.
Netanyahu is also reportedly demanding Gantz agree to several changes to the coalition deal unrelated to the budget. Channel 12 claimed that the premier was using the budget as leverage to pressure Gantz into agreeing to changes to the existing coalition deal between the two sides.
According to the report, Netanyahu is demanding that the accord be altered so elections are automatically called should the High Court of Justice disqualify him from serving as alternate prime minister after he hands over the premiership to Gantz in November 2021. The current deal only gives Netanyahu protection for the first six months of the government’s existence.
Netanyahu is also reportedly demanding that the agreement to form a professional committee for appointing senior legal officials — such as the state attorney and the chief of police — be canceled, with that power returning to politicians. The network reported on Friday that the appointments issue was likely off the table.