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Likud treasury chief: ‘Danger of elections has passed’

Israel Katz says resolution of coalition crisis now ‘only a matter of agreements and wording’; weekly cabinet meeting to be held Sunday after Likud, Blue and White agree on agenda

Finance Minister Israel Katz holds a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on July 1, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Finance Minister Israel Katz holds a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on July 1, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Finance Minister Israel Katz on Saturday said the threat of new elections was over, signaling the Likud and Blue and White parties were nearing a deal to solve a coalition crisis that has been threatening to again send Israelis to the polls.

The focus of the dispute between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White has been the state budget, which must be passed by August 25 or elections will automatically be called. Gantz has insisted on a budget through 2021, as the coalition deal between the parties stipulates, while Netanyahu is insisting on one that only covers the rest of the year, citing the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.

Hebrew media reports, however, have indicated the main bone of contention is Netanyahu’s demands for changes in the coalition deal that could shore up his political and legal positions.

“In my opinion the danger of elections has passed,” Katz, a member of Likud, told Channel 12 news. “Now it’s only a matter of agreements and wording.”

He added: “When both sides understand there are no elections, there are no elections.”

Katz didn’t give any details on what the agreements were.

He also urged Blue and White to back the passage of “some type of budget” to increase funding for security and education.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Jerusalem, on July 5, 2020. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

His comments came as Likud and Blue and White agreed on an agenda for the weekly cabinet meeting, lifting the threat that it would be cancelled for a second straight week due to the disagreements between the parties. The government will only deal with matters related to the coronavirus when it convenes Sunday.

Under their coalition deal, both parties must okay the agenda for the weekly cabinet meeting. Last week’s extraordinary cancellation of the meeting brought the coalition crisis into sharp relief, as both parties appeared to dig in their heels amid rampant speculation that fresh elections could be around the corner over the intensifying budget brawl.

If new elections are called, they would be the fourth since April 2019. The previous three rounds of elections failed to produce a clear winner, and after the latest vote in March, Gantz agreed to join a government led by Netanyahu in a move that split Blue and White, which had campaigned on replacing the premier due to his indictment on graft charges.

Gantz, who also has the title of alternate prime minister, is reportedly concerned that Netanyahu plans to use the budget negotiations as an excuse to break up the government to avoid a transfer of power in November 2021, under their premiership rotation agreement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discusses the Israel-UAE normalization deal at the PM’s office in Jerusalem, on August 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to a Channel 12 report this week, Netanyahu was using the budget as leverage to pressure Gantz into accepting changes to the existing coalition deal between the two sides.

According to the report, Netanyahu is demanding that the accord be altered so elections are automatically called should the High Court of Justice disqualify him from serving as alternate prime minister after he hands over the premiership to Gantz in November 2021. The current deal only gives Netanyahu protection for the first six months of the government’s existence.

Netanyahu is also reportedly demanding that the agreement to form a professional committee for appointing senior legal officials — such as the state attorney and the chief of police — be canceled, with that power returning to politicians. The network reported on Friday that the appointments issue was likely off the table.

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