Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis warned Monday that if the Blue and White party does not back a single-year budget as pushed by his Likud party, the latter will seek to replace the unity coalition with an alternative government of 61 MKs.
His remarks came a day after the coalition whip said that the government between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White was heading for “a divorce.”
Likud is currently at loggerheads with Blue and White over whether to pass a one-year budget, as Netanyahu insists, or the two-year budget pushed by Gantz, who is also alternate prime minister.
Amid deep distrust between the two parties, Gantz has vowed not to back down from his demand for a two-year budget, as stipulated by the coalition agreement. The current cliff edge is August 25. Failure to pass a budget by then will trigger automatic elections in November, in what would be the fourth round of voting in less than two years.
Akunis told Army Radio that if the budget is not passed by the cabinet this week, then his Likud party will strive to avoid new elections by forming a new government from the current Knesset before the budget deadline arrives.
“I, and the Likud, don’t want the Knesset to disperse, but rather that an alternative government be formed within the 23rd Knesset,” he said, without specifying how a majority of 61 MKs from the 120-seat Knesset would be achieved.
The Likud “isn’t going to blink” in the standoff with Blue and White over the budget, Akunis asserted.
“Everyone will know who led Israel to a fourth election” if elections are eventually called, he said. “The blame will all go to Gantz.”
Earlier in the day, Netanyahu told a meeting of his Likud faction at the Knesset that the budget must be passed or the country will need to make “significant cutbacks” at a time when it is striving to breathe life into an economy hamstrung by the coronavirus outbreak.
“This is not the time for cutbacks,” Netanyahu said. “This is the time to provide money to the citizens.”
In seeking to renege on his coalition deal with Gantz and pass only a budget for the remainder of the current year, Netanyahu has been citing the uncertainty created by the coronavirus crisis.
Despite Akunis’s assurances, Netanyahu is widely believed to be doubling down on the single-year option as a way of leaving himself the option of dissolving the government next year by failing to pass a 2021 budget — the only option that, according to his complex and convoluted deal with Gantz, will allow him to send the country to a new election without Gantz automatically becoming prime minister in the interim.
The unity government, formed after three successive elections proved inconclusive and finally sworn in on May 17, has since been beset by wrangling and blocking maneuvers between the right-wing Likud and centrist Blue and White.
On Sunday, coalition whip MK Miki Zohar told the Kan public broadcaster, “There is a gaping abyss between us and Blue and White on many topics at an ideological level.”
“It is a like a couple that wants to divorce and that at any moment” will begin proceedings to end the marriage, he said. “That is the feeling at the moment: that it doesn’t matter what we do, it is going to end between us and Blue and White.”
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri of the Shas party, who helped broker the Netanyahu-Gantz coalition deal, said Monday evening that “the people will not forgive us” if coalition in-fighting leads to yet another election.