Netanyahu said eyeing loophole to ditch Gantz, form right-wing coalition

Reported maneuver could see Deri or Levin serve temporarily as PM to avoid violating coalition deal; Gantz said urged by some party members to give in to premier’s budget demands

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, and then-Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman, at the first meeting of the 35th Government, in the Knesset on May 17, 2020. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, and then-Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman, at the first meeting of the 35th Government, in the Knesset on May 17, 2020. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is looking at dismantling the unity government he currently has with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, but before calling new elections, he will try to exploit a loophole in the coalition agreement to form an alternative government, a report said Sunday.

Channel 12 said Netanyahu will try to pull in Yoaz Hendel’s and Zvi Hauser’s Derech Eretz party and others to get a majority of 61 lawmakers in the 120-member Knesset, citing unnamed Likud sources.

The power-sharing coalition deal signed by Netanyahu and Gantz — according to which Gantz will replace Netanyahu as premier in November 2021 — forbids motions of no confidence in the current government which lead to one of them then serving as prime minister in an alternate government.

The report said that one possibility would be to nominate a third candidate who would serve temporarily as prime minister, giving as possibilities Shas party leader Aryeh Deri and the Likud’s Knesset Speaker, Yariv Levin.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin attends a conference on September 5, 2019. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)

A week later, another motion of no confidence would go up for a vote, nominating Netanyahu as prime minister and the head of a new right-wing government, thus circumventing the accord, according to the reported plan.

“Much creativity is being invested in Netanyahu’s attempts to dismantle the partnership with Blue and White,” the report said.

The Prime Minister’s Office denied the report.

The network also cited growing elements within Blue and White advocating giving in to Netanyahu’s demand for a single-year budget, rather than a two-year budget as stipulated in the coalition agreement, although Gantz disagrees.

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

The Blue and White officials believe that Netanyahu is genuine in his intention to force new elections, and want to prevent that because they believe elections during the winter amid the coronavirus crisis would be very inadvisable, the report said. Therefore, they are seeking to rob him of the budget pretext, meaning Netanyahu would be seen as responsible for any such move, not Gantz.

Gantz said Saturday in an interview with Channel 12 that he opposed another round of premature elections and that should he emerge from the current coalition government as a “political sucker, so be it.”

The government will automatically dissolve if no state budget is passed by August 25.

Though the coalition deal between Likud and Blue and White mandates a two-year budget, Netanyahu has been insisting on a budget that will only cover the rest of 2020, citing the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

Gantz, however, has insisted that a two-year budget be passed, as stipulated in the coalition deal, saying it would provide greater financial certainty to those hurt economically by the government’s lockdown measures.

But commentators believe there are other issues at stake, as the passage of a one-year budget — or the failure to pass one at all — could allow Netanyahu to kick off new elections without having to hand over the premiership to Gantz next year, as stipulated by the coalition deal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a press conference at the Health Ministry, July 23, 2020. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

According to a Haaretz report Wednesday, Netanyahu has decided to seek another round of elections following the Jerusalem District Court’s ruling last week that witnesses will begin testifying in his criminal trial in January, with hearings to take place three times a week.

The report said Netanyahu fears that petitions to the High Court of Justice will demand he be barred from continuing to serve as prime minister while he is on trial and that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will back this stance, making it easier for the justices to rule in favor of the petitioners.

Unnamed associates of Netanyahu were quoted as saying that the premier’s main aim in going back to the polls is to regain control over the Justice Ministry and that he would campaign heavily against the judicial system ahead of the elections. The current justice minister, Blue and White’s Avi Nissenkorn, has defended the legal system in the face of unsubstantiated claims by Netanyahu and his allies that he is the victim of an “attempted political coup.”

Netanyahu on Thursday evening dismissed that report and others as “absurd,” but warned that a return to the polls would indeed result if his coalition does not pass a state budget in the next month.

Two new TV surveys were published last week, showing Netanyahu’s Likud losing ground if elections were held now — not to Gantz, but to right-wing party Yamina, headed by Naftali Bennett, which is currently sitting in the opposition.

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