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Likud, Blue and White trade blame as further vaccine purchases held up

Netanyahu’s party accuses Gantz of wanting to ‘bring back the lockdowns’; Gantz says he’ll approve deal if PM stops blocking appointment of permanent justice minister

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the swearing-in ceremony for the 24th Knesset, April 6, 2021. (Knesset spokesperson)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the swearing-in ceremony for the 24th Knesset, April 6, 2021. (Knesset spokesperson)

The Likud and Blue and White parties on Monday engaged in a fresh spat over the purchase of additional coronavirus vaccines, which has been held up by political infighting.

The government was set to approve the deal during a cabinet meeting last month, but Defense Minister Benny Gantz canceled the meeting over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to hold a vote on a permanent justice minister. Israel is currently without a justice minister, after Gantz’s interim appointment ended at the start of the month.

Negotiators from the two parties met Monday at the treasury in a bid to hammer out an agreement, but the meeting ended without any breakthroughs, with Blue and White accusing Likud’s Finance Minister Israel Katz of conditioning the purchase of the shots on the advancement of other financial policies.

In a statement after the meeting, Likud accused Gantz of endangering Israelis.

“We urge him to come to his senses and not continue to endanger the lives and health of Israeli citizens,” Likud said, accusing Gantz of seeking to “bring back the lockdowns.”

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, a top Likud lawmaker, also piled on, tweeting that Gantz was committing a “crime” against Israelis’ health.

“He didn’t have any intention of allowing the purchase of vaccines and the rest is excuses. The grave health and economic consequences of not purchasing the vaccines will be on his hands,” Edelstein claimed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (C) attend a ceremony for the arrival of a plane carrying a shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech anti-coronavirus vaccine, at Ben Gurion Airport near the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on January 10, 2021. (Motti Millrod/Pool/AFP)

Gantz responded that he has been persuaded to approve the budget for the vaccines, but again conditioned his support on the appointment of a permanent justice minister, the lack of which hampers the Knesset’s ability to pass legislation, among other consequences.

“Every Israeli must ask themselves why a prime minister who is charged with crimes is refusing to appoint a justice minister, even at the expense of ‘bringing back the lockdowns,’ as they claim. The only answer is that he places his trial above the needs of the state; and it’s time he goes home,” Gantz’s office said, referring to Netanyahu’s ongoing trial on corruption charges.

The back-and-forth came days after Israeli television reported that Pfizer was threatening to hold up further vaccine shipments to Israel over a delay in payments, warning the Jewish state could be sent to the back of the line if it doesn’t pay up.

FILE: Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, December 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Israel and Pfizer agreed to a vaccine deal in November. The drug company, together with its partner BioNTech, supplied Israel with an unspecified number of doses, and the Finance Ministry said it paid NIS 2.6 billion ($785 million).

Israel still has enough vaccines to fully inoculate the remaining unvaccinated population, while giving a single shot to recovered COVID-19 patients, Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy has said. However, he stressed Israel needed a continuing supply of shots and wanted to “get ahead of the rest of the world.”

Israel is currently seeking 36 million more doses, according to Reuters.

The shots will be for children, once they are deemed eligible, and to use as booster shots. Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said last week that he believes Israel will start vaccinating children in the next few weeks. Pfizer applied Friday for US authorization for 12- to 15-year-olds.

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