Likud, Blue and White deny reports of breakthrough to avert elections

Refuted TV reports would see Gantz’s premiership start-date pushed back — but such a move would require changing Basic Laws in matter of days

Benny Gantz, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset during a vote for the parliament to dissolve itself, on December 2, 2020. (Danny Shem Tov/ Knesset Spokesperson)
Benny Gantz, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset during a vote for the parliament to dissolve itself, on December 2, 2020. (Danny Shem Tov/ Knesset Spokesperson)

The Likud and Blue and White parties both denied reports Thursday claiming that the sides had made sudden progress toward reaching a compromise that would help prevent the country from holding a fourth election in less than two years.

The denials came after Channel 13 reported “dramatic” progress had been made in talks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White. A source, evidently from Blue and White, told the network the centrist party had managed to ensure the rotation agreement that will allow Gantz to replace Netanyahu as premier, in addition to keeping Avi Nissenkorn on as justice minister.

Nissenkorn remaining in his post would mean that he would lead the government appointments of the next state prosecutor and attorney general — two positions seen as critical to Netanyahu, whose criminal trial is slated to resume soon. Nissenkorn also opposes efforts by Netanyahu allies to reform the justice system, appoint more conservative judges and limit the power of the courts more broadly.

But Likud issued a quick denial of the Channel 13 report, calling it fake news.

While the network reported that Gantz had ensured the rotation agreement in principle, it did not specify whether Likud had agreed to hold to the original deal that stated the Blue and White leader would replace Netanyahu in November 2021.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn seen at the Knesset, October 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to a second report, on Channel 12, the parties are in talks to push that date back to May or even August of 2022, with Gantz then serving as premier for just six months to a year.

Meanwhile, Gantz also appeared to deny the report, telling fellow Blue and White lawmakers at a faction Hanukkah party Thursday night that no compromise was on the table and that the country was indeed heading for another election.

“Rest up now because we’ll be starting to campaign soon,” he said, according to Kan news.

The impending dissolution of the Knesset is a direct result of the impasse over the national budget, which has long been held up by Likud in what is widely believed to be an effort to prevent Gantz from succeeding Netanyahu as prime minister, as stipulated by their power-sharing agreement.

Blue and White has been demanding that a budget be passed for 2020 and 2021 together, as the coalition deal stipulates, while Netanyahu insisted on one that only covers the rest of 2020, citing the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. But the passage of a one-year budget could allow Netanyahu to kick off new elections down the line without having to hand over the premiership to Gantz next year, as the deal says.

At any rate, failure to pass any budget by December 23 will trigger automatic elections.

Also Thursday, the Yamina party claimed that Netanyahu offered Naftali Bennett’s right-wing faction several senior portfolios, aiming to have it join the coalition in Blue and White’s stead and extend the life of the beleaguered government. Yamina said it rejected the proposal.

Hebrew media reports said Likud offered the defense portfolio and two more senior ministerial jobs, including transportation minister. Likud promised the coalition would serve its full four-year term and wouldn’t include Blue and White. Likud claimed some members of that party were ready to jump ship and join its parliamentary bloc.

There was no proposal for a power-sharing agreement similar to Netanyahu’s current deal with Gantz, the reports said.

Lawmakers in the Knesset plenum on December 9, 2020. (Dani Shem Tov/Knesset Spokesperson)

Yamina — which is predicted to boost its representation in the Knesset if elections are held — said in a statement that it rejected the proposal outright. “We need snap elections, we will bring new leadership to Israel,” it said.

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