As Knesset's winter session opens

Lapid pushes no confidence vote against Netanyahu; Gantz says he won’t back it

Opposition leader’s bid seen as dead in the water since Blue and White party’s support is needed to topple and replace government

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid speaking in the Knesset plenum, October 12, 2020. (Yaniv Nadav/Knesset spokesperson's office)
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid speaking in the Knesset plenum, October 12, 2020. (Yaniv Nadav/Knesset spokesperson's office)

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid on Monday urged fellow lawmakers to back his Yesh Atid party’s “constructive no-confidence” vote, planned for later in the day, which would oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and replace the current government with an alternative one if it wins 61 votes.

However, the motion appeared to have no chance of success after Defense Minister Benny Gantz, whose Blue and White party must support it for the move to pass, clarified that his party wouldn’t vote for it.

Lapid has called on Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, also of Blue and White, to break coalition ranks to vote alongside the opposition, and has asked the Labor party, which joined the ruling coalition despite campaign pledges to the contrary, to do the same. Gantz and Ashkenazi are both former partners of Lapid who split up their centrist slate to join Netanyahu’s government.

Lapid is calling for a new government headed by himself, along with Blue and White, Labor, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party and Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party. The latter has also said it won’t back the move.

“Whoever doesn’t vote in favor of this proposal is a coward,” Lapid said at a Yesh Atid faction meeting in the Knesset. “This government is not fit to lead the [coronavirus] crisis.”

“One vote, in a few hours, and this evening Netanyahu won’t be prime minister anymore. Without elections, without any chaos,” Lapid said. “Benny Gantz will be defense minister. Gabi Ashkenazi will be foreign minister. Avi Nissenkorn will be justice minister. Avigdor Liberman and Naftali Bennett will be senior ministers. Does anyone have any doubt that a government like that will do a better job managing the crisis?”

“Yesh Atid is proposing a constructive no-confidence in the Netanyahu government today. The prime minister has failed in the management of the crisis. Anyone who knows that and doesn’t vote no-confidence is simply a coward,” he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, both wearing protective mask due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 7, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/Pool Photo via AP)

But Gantz declared during a faction meeting later in the day that Blue and White wouldn’t vote for the motion of no-confidence, effectively sinking the proposal’s chance of passing.

Still, he said that “all options are on the table,” in a warning to Netanyahu that Blue and White could push to remove him if Gantz’s call for a budget covering 2021 to be passed by the end of the year isn’t heeded.

Blue and White and Netanyahu’s Likud have been feuding over the state budget. Gantz wants a budget through 2021, while Netanyahu is calling for one that will only run through the end of December, which could end up allowing him to go to elections without having to hand over the premiership to Gantz late next year as part of their power-sharing deal.

“Until now we did everything in our ability to allow this government to function and put the wellbeing of the state at the top of the agenda,” Gantz said. “They called us cowards and we held back. They called us weak and we held back. This chapter is over and done. There won’t be any more restraint.”

The Knesset’s winter session formally opened on Monday with a packed agenda and no end to sniping between coalition parties.

The session opens after days of increasingly acerbic fighting between Likud and Blue and White, with each party accusing the other of failing to adhere to coalition agreements, politicizing the fight against the coronavirus, and dragging the country unnecessarily into early elections — issues that have been consistent themes throughout the unity government’s short life.

The dissolution of the Knesset was only narrowly avoided in August, when legislation delaying the passage of the state budget until late December was passed at the last minute. If the Knesset fails to pass a budget by the new date, the country would enter new elections — the fourth national vote in some two years.

The Knesset plenum on October 12, 2020. (Yaniv Nadav/Knesset spokesperson’s office)

The parties have been fighting for months about the state budget, with the prime minister insisting on not passing a 2021 budget this year — in contravention of coalition agreements.

Netanyahu says his about-face is a result of the unpredictable nature of the coronavirus pandemic, while Gantz suspects it is part of a plot to deny him the premiership next year as demanded by a rotation agreement.

The power-sharing deal between the parties stipulates that Gantz will become prime minister in November 2021. It also says that if any party breaks up the coalition to call an election, the other party automatically takes the premiership in the lead-up to a fresh national vote. However, there is a single exception to this rule, that being the state budget: Failure to pass the state budget by the legal deadline will automatically lead to elections, with the prime minister keeping his post. This is seen as a loophole allowing Netanyahu an “exit window” to elections without losing his seat.

Netanyahu currently has two such windows: the passage of the long-delayed 2020 budget by December 23, and the 2021 budget by March of next year. Missing either of the deadlines will trigger automatic elections.

Blue and White want the 2020-2021 budget passed by December, to prevent Netanyahu from having the option of heading to elections in March. On its side is the coalition agreement, which stipulated that a two-year budget would be passed this year.

Polls have shown Blue and White sinking to 8-10 seats if elections were held now. Likud has also seen its prospects wither, with a poll from the channel last week showing it dropping to 26 seats, just three more than Yamina.

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