Likud officials: If High Court meddles with deal, we’ll go to 4th elections
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Likud officials: If High Court meddles with deal, we’ll go to 4th elections

Party representatives warn even small changes to delicate unity agreement will spell its end; Blue and White says it won’t appoint full number of ministers after criticism of cost

Composite photo shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, right. (Flash90)
Composite photo shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, right. (Flash90)

Senior officials from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party on Friday warned that if the High Court intervenes next week over the coalition deal signed by Netanyahu and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, Israel would be dragged into a fourth round of elections.

The officials told Channel 12 news that, because the agreement is so complex and delicate, even a small intervention would throw it out of balance and end the precarious unity agreement.

Blue and White party representatives acknowledged that Likud has the ability to dismantle the government and bring about elections, the report said.

Under the terms of the deal struck Monday, which will end over a year of political deadlock during which Israel has not had a permanent government, Gantz will become prime minister in 18 months. Until then, he will serve as defense minister and have veto power over most legislative and policy matters.

Despite running on a campaign to oust Netanyahu from power, Gantz announced last month that he was prepared to join a government with the Likud leader after all — to battle the coronavirus and help protect Israeli democracy.

His move caused a split in his party, with former partners Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon breaking away. Lapid is now set to lead the Knesset opposition.

Yair Lapid speaks at a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling on him to quit, at Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, April 19, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The agreement features many convoluted amendments to Israel’s constitutional Basic Laws. The legality of the changes to existing Knesset legislation, and other aspects of the Netanyahu-Gantz coalition deal, are being challenged at the High Court of Justice.

It is not clear if the court intends to intervene in the agreement, or in response to petitions saying Netanyahu, who is under indictment, should not be allowed to set up a new government. The court is set to take up the petitions next week.

In a preliminary reading Thursday, 62 lawmakers approved a bill to anchor in law key aspects of the deal, including the rotation of the premiership, while 37 opposed it. However, the bill still has three more readings to pass before it becomes law.

Also on Friday, Blue and White officials said that the party would not appoint all of the 16 ministers, and additional deputy ministers, allotted to the faction in the agreement, Channel 12 reported.

According to the agreement, the cabinet will initially include 32 ministers and then swell to 36, with 16 deputy ministers, as soon as the coronavirus crisis is deemed to have ended.

It would be the largest cabinet by far in Israel’s history, and come at an exorbitant cost as the country grapples with economic havoc and skyrocketing unemployment due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The deal stipulates that the number of ministers will be divided equally between the Netanyahu- and Gantz-led blocs. Each bloc will have 16 ministers during the emergency period, rising to 18 within 30 days of the termination of the emergency period. Each bloc will also be entitled to eight deputy ministers.

Blue and White officials said Friday that “even as the government expands, no ministers will be added on our behalf, and we won’t appoint any deputy ministers.”

Therefore, instead of 52 total ministers and deputy ministers following the crisis, there would be fewer than 40.

The price tag for the overhead costs of the new government, if all the ministers allowed in the agreement are appointed, may be as high as a billion shekels.

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