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Liberman after Gantz calls PM a liar: Good morning, sunshine

Lapid praises ex-partner Gantz for vowing to back bill to dissolve Knesset

Other opposition MKs bash Blue and White chief for joining Netanyahu-led government in the first place; Likud whip accuses defense minister of hitting ‘new low’

Then-Blue and White party leaders Benny Gantz, right, and Yair Lapid at a faction meeting at the opening of the 22nd Knesset, in Jerusalem on October 3, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, right, and Yair Lapid at a faction meeting at the opening of the 22nd Knesset in Jerusalem, on October 3, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid on Tuesday cheered Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s decision to throw his Blue and White party’s support behind a preliminary reading of a bill to dissolve the Knesset and call early elections.

“It’s clear to all that Netanyahu cannot lead the country out of the coronavirus crisis. Israel needs a government that will work for the public,” Lapid said in a statement. “A lean and efficient government that will deal with real life. Real problems. Small businesses, unemployed, health. Not politics, not corruption and not press conferences.”

In a primetime speech, Gantz said he could no longer back the government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing the premier of reneging on the terms of the coalition deal they inked earlier this year.

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.  If the process is completed, the Knesset is likely to dissolve in late December, with elections in March 2021 — the fourth in less than two years.

Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party is behind the bill to dissolve the Knesset, ran as part of Blue and White during the three election campaigns over the past two years, but broke with Gantz over his decision to join a Netanyahu-led government.

“For the past few days I’ve been calling on Benny Gantz to put the past behind us and vote with Yesh Atid on dispersing the Knesset,” said Lapid. “This evening he announced that he would support our bill and I congratulate him for that.

MK Moshe Ya’alon, the No. 2 in the Yesh Atid-Telem faction, urged Gantz to push for the immediate formation of a new government that won’t be led by Netanyahu.

“This government lost its way from the day it was founded. It was born in sin and rendered the tenure of a criminal defendant kosher,” Ya’alon said, referring to Netanyahu’s indictment on graft charges.

Other opposition lawmakers hit out at Gantz over his initial decision to form a government with Netanyahu.

Blue and White chair Benny Gantz (C) meeting with leaders of the Joint List alliance, Ayman Odeh (L) and Ahmed Tibi, October 31, 2019. (Ofek Avshalom)

“Half a year ago, Blue and White could have formed a government that would have put an end to Netanyahu’s rule, but Benny Gantz decided to be the replacement for the most racist and inciteful prime minister we’ve known,” tweeted MK Ayman Odeh, who heads the predominantly-Arab Joint List.

Odeh also appeared to take a shot at fellow Joint List MK Mansour Abbas, who was considering not supporting the bill and has recently moved to improve ties with Netanyahu.

“Even though today there are those who are deceived, no split that Netanyahu is trying to create will change the equation — without Arab citizens, there won’t be any political change,” he said.

MK Tamar Zandberg of the left-wing Meretz party also tore into Gantz for joining with Netanyahu.

“What happened is exactly what was expected to happen and Gantz can’t say he wasn’t warned,” Zandberg wrote on Twitter.

The head of the right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu party, MK Avigdor Liberman, mocked Gantz on Twitter over the move.

“Good morning, sunshine,” Liberman wrote alongside a headline announcing Gantz’s decision to back the vote.

Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman castigates the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, at the opening of his weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, September 7, 2020. (Yisrael Beytenu)

Yisrael Beytenu, currently in the opposition, also seemed to hint it wouldn’t join a government led by Gantz, who vowed repeatedly on the campaign trail he would not be part of a coalition headed up by Netanyahu.

“The State of Israel needs true leadership. The type that doesn’t zigzag and isn’t tempted by [ministerial] seats,” it said in a statement.

On the coalition side, Netanyahu’s Likud party ally MK Miki Zohar said Gantz’s announcement was the start of his election campaign.

“The attack against Netanyahu — a new low,” Zohar tweeted. “They’re dissolving the Knesset and dismantling the government, while harming Israeli citizens, on a political whim.”

During his announcement, Gantz described the government’s conduct as “disgusting” and accused Netanyahu of lying to the public when he agreed to form a unity coalition and when he promised to give up the premiership in 2021.

“I entered the government with a heavy heart but with a whole heart,” Gantz said, echoing a comment made by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit when he announced criminal charges against Netanyahu.

Gantz, who also serves as alternate prime minister, charged Netanyahu was breaking up the government and leading Israel to new elections, while calling foot-dragging over the budget a “terror attack.”

Announcing that Blue and White would support the preliminary motion to disband the Knesset and call new elections, Gantz said Netanyahu was “a serial breaker of promises” who had “lied to” and “duped” the public and could not be trusted.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz issue a statement at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, July 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Tal Shahar, Yediot Ahronoth, Pool)

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.

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. 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 government, alleging that Blue and White was “being dragged behind 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.”

Most analysts believe that while Netanyahu wants early elections, he prefers they be timed later in the year.

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