Netanyahu said demanding changes to deal with Gantz to keep coalition intact

Amid political crisis that could lead to new election, TV report says budget standoff may be secondary to PM’s latest conditions for continuing Likud-Blue and White partnership

MK Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of Likud, sign their unity government agreement on April 20, 2020. (GPO)
MK Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of Likud, sign their unity government agreement on April 20, 2020. (GPO)

With a standoff over the state budget threatening to send Israel to new elections, a report Tuesday evening said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was demanding that Defense Minister Benny Gantz agree to several changes to the coalition deal on matters unrelated to the budget as a condition for keeping the government intact.

The report by Channel 12 news claimed the budget was not the chief issue for Netanyahu, indicating he was using it as leverage to pressure Gantz into agreeing to 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 report said that was a demand that Blue and White would find “very hard” to accept, as it was one of its main achievements in the coalition deal. In entering Netanyahu’s government, Blue and White argued the move would enable it to protect the independence of democratic institutions and law enforcement.

Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White have been holding secret negotiations on the matter, the report said.

Netanyahu and Gantz have been locked in a bitter standoff over the state budget that threatens to topple the government and force new elections if it isn’t resolved by August 25. 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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Likud said Monday that it would back a bill by the Derech Eretz faction to push off the August 25 deadline 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.

Gantz subsequently urged Netanyahu to pass the law within 24 hours in order to remove the threat of new elections. Netanyahu brushed aside the warning.

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

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 could block Netanyahu from again assembling a coalition due to his indictment on corruption charges.

Blue and White breifly considered backing the bill as relations with Likud deteriorated in recent days, but said Tuesday that its members would walk out of the vote.

“Our principled stance on the matter hasn’t changed and won’t change, but at this time, this is only an effort to undermine the stability of the entire political system,” Blue and White said in a statement.

On 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.”

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 2019. 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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