A pair of senior officials in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party have urged him to force new elections, according to a television report Saturday, as two opposition party chiefs said they would back legislation barring the premier from again forming a government due to his indictment on graft charges.
“The meaning of a two-year budget is that [Defense Minister Benny] Gantz will be prime minister,” Channel 12 news quoted the two Likud officials saying.
The report came as Netanyahu remained at loggerheads with Gantz over the passage of a state budget, which they must approve by August 25 or the government will be dissolved. While the coalition deal between Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White stipulates the coalition will pass a budget through 2021, Netanyahu is now calling for one that only covers the rest of the year, citing the uncertainty of the pandemic.
The coalition agreement also requires Netanyahu to hand over the premiership to Gantz if new elections new elections are called before the Blue and White chief takes over as prime minister in November 2021, an exception was made for a failure to pass a budget, leading to speculation the Likud leader was forcing the budget crisis to avoid having to leave office.
The network also reported Saturday that Netanyahu has begun looking for potential defectors who would allow him to put together an alternative government and avoid elections. It said he recently met with Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata of Blue and White and quoted officials from Gantz’s party saying the meeting was aimed at enlisting her to defect.
“Whoever is looking for her to join a narrow government is wasting his time,” the channel quoted a statement on her behalf as saying.
Likud officials said the meeting between Netanyahu and Tamano-Shata was a routine talk to discuss the coronavirus pandemic.
Also Saturday, the head of the left-wing Meretz party said he would submit a bill barring a Knesset member facing criminal charges from assembling a government. Netanyahu is standing trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in a trio of criminal cases. He denies any wrongdoing.
“It can’t be that a man charged with crimes will run an entire country in accordance with his personal and criminal whims,” the Ynet news site quoted MK Nitzan Horowitz said.
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid-Telem party, told Channel 13 news he would support such a bill if new elections are called. He said he expects his former allies in Blue and White to back the move.
“At least once they will keep a promise to voters,” Lapid said of Blue and White.
In an interview with Channel 12 news aired Saturday, Gantz refused to say whether he would back the bill.
Gantz also said he didn’t want new elections but wouldn’t budge on the coalition agreement’s stipulation that the budget run through 2021. He suggest that Netanyahu and Lapid however were seeking elections.
If fresh elections are called, they would be the fourth since April 2019. The previous three rounds of elections ended inconclusively, but Gantz and Netanyahu agreed on a power-sharing deal after the vote in March. The deal split Blue and White, due to the party’s campaign pledge not to join a government led by the premier because of the graft charges against him.