Netanyahu: Gantz will be PM if he stops fighting me

Netanyahu appears to dismiss Gantz’s 24-hour deadline to pass budget delay bill

After PM agrees to put off vote on state funds to avoid new election, Blue and White chief urges him to okay bill within next day; but the premier signals he’s in no hurry to do so

Composite photo shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, right. (Flash90)
Composite photo shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, right. (Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pass into law in the next 24 hours a bill delaying the deadline for passing a state budget, in order to remove the threat of new elections.

“Israelis have had their fill of political tricks that they — and only they — pay the price for,” Gantz said during a faction meeting of his Blue and White party.

He did not specify what his party would do if Netanyahu refused.

Netanyahu brushed aside the warning shortly after Gantz spoke.

“We don’t need 24 hours, we don’t even need 24 minutes. We have a prepared and adapted budget to the coronavirus, exactly what Israeli citizens need today,” Netanyahu said at a Likud faction meeting.

He did not directly address the timeline for passing the deadline delay bill.

Derech Eretz MKs Yoaz Hendel (L) and Zvi Hauser seen on April 29, 2019, ahead of the opening Knesset session after elections. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The back\-and-forth came after Likud said it would back the Derech Eretz faction’s bill to push off the August 25 deadline to pass a budget by 100 days. Netanyahu’s party, however, only pledged to support the proposed legislation in its preliminary and first readings, not the second and third readings it must clear to become law, prompting speculation that the move was a ploy.

Netanyahu and Gantz have been locked in a bitter standoff over the state budget that threatens to topple the government and force new elections. The two agreed to pass a two-year budget covering 2020 and 2021 as part of the coalition deal between their parties that was signed in May, but the premier is now demanding a budget that only covers the rest of 2020, given the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Gantz is insisting on a budget that runs through next year, citing previous agreements and insisting it would help stabilize a teetering economy. He is concerned that Netanyahu plans to use next year’s budget negotiations as an excuse to break up the government to avoid a transfer of power in November 2021, under their premiership rotation agreement.

In a preview of an interview with Channel 20 news set to air Monday, Netanyahu was asked whether Gantz will be prime minister.

“That depends on him. If he will stop leading a faction that is a government within the government, a government against the government, that argues with us on every matter, that delays budgets and other things, he will be prime minister. If not, things will break apart on their own,” Netanyahu said.

Gantz, earlier Monday, said: “Whoever loves the State of Israel doesn’t take it to elections at this time. Prime Minister Netanyahu, I call on you to pass a government decision today to give real and legal backing to your promise from yesterday… within 24 hours from now, we can complete the [legislative] process.”

The timeline laid out by Gantz to pass the bill appeared linked to a scheduled vote Wednesday in the Knesset on an opposition proposal that would bar an MK under indictment from forming a government, which would block Netanyahu from again assembling a coalition due to his indictment on corruption charges.

Blue and White has not ruled out supporting that bill amid the crisis with Likud, and Netanyahu, who denies wrongdoing in the criminal cases he has been indicted in, seemed to refer to it during the Likud faction meeting.

“I’m not impressed by all these Iranian and North Korean laws to trample the will of the voter,” he said.

Also Monday, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid-Telem party is behind the bill that would bar Netanyahu from forming a new government, pilloried the proposal to delay the budget deadline, calling it “crooked and harmful.”

“As always, they have decided not to decide. Instead of passing a budget in record time, this government has chosen, again, to play small-minded and worthless political games on the backs of the people,” he said at a faction meeting.

“Anyone who supports delaying the budget is basically saying to the Israeli people: I don’t care about you anymore.”

MK Yair Lapid speaks at the Maariv newspaper conference in Herzliya, on February 26, 2020. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

MK Avigdor Liberman also said his opposition Yisrael Beytenu party would vote against the proposed delay.

“What Israel needs now is a budget, not delays,” he said during a faction meeting.

Liberman said later Monday that Netanyahu was already in electioneering mode, and was giving out huge sums to the public — rather than investing in job creation — as a form of “election bribery.”

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Liberman said Netanyahu was looking for a path to getting enough Knesset support for legislative cover to evade his ongoing corruption trial. “Netanyahu from the end of January will have to be in the district court three times a week. I don’t see that happening,” Liberman told Channel 12. “If he can get 62-63 seats [in the 120-member parliament], I assume we’ll see a French law, a Chinese law, the Supreme Court override law [legislation aimed at thwarting his trial]. If not, in my opinion, he’ll race for a plea bargain.”

Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases. He denies any wrongdoing, and has charged that an alliance of the left, the media, police and state prosecutors are engaged in an attempt at a political coup against him.

If new elections are called, they would be the fourth since April 2018. Netanyahu and Gantz agreed to create an emergency unity government in May due to the pandemic, after three consecutive rounds of elections failed to yield a clear winner.

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