In a move to avert a fourth round of elections in under two years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly agreed to advance legislation to delay an August 25 budget deadline. The step is also being backed by coalition partners Blue and White and Shas.
Derech Eretz, a political faction made up of two MKs, Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, elected as part of the Blue and White alliance, proposed a bill that would postpone the deadline for passing a state budget by several months, granting more time for Netanyahu and partner-rival Blue and White chief Benny Gantz to hammer out an agreement in their ongoing budget dispute.
“The ‘Derech Eretz’ faction turned this evening to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and asked for Likud’s support in advancing a bill to delay the state budget,” the faction said in a statement. “This step will allow Likud and Blue and White the time, as the bill advances, to reach a comprehensive solution to all the disagreements, in order to ensure the ongoing functioning of the government and prevent elections.”
The statement added: “Prime Minister Netanyahu has agreed to the request, and we welcome all advances made toward resolving the crisis.”
Netanyahu, who had a row over the budget at a meeting earlier Sunday, did not comment.
Hendel, who serves as communications minister in the current government, shared the party statement on Twitter, adding that the bill would be brought to the Knesset plenum for a preliminary vote on Wednesday.
“Elections at this time would be a critical blow to our national interests and to the Israeli public. We will make every effort to prevent the madness of a fourth election in the middle of an unprecedented economic and health crisis,” Hendel said.
Apparently confirming the Derech Eretz statement, Blue and White welcomed Likud’s “willingness to safeguard Israel’s political stability” during the crisis.
Saying it would also back the bill, the Blue and White faction said late Sunday it “will do everything in its power to prevent terrible elections in the throes of one of the most serious crises the country has ever known.”
Aryeh Deri’s Shas party, a close ally of Netanyahu, also immediately threw its support behind the bill.
Derech Eretz is one of several small factions in the coalition that have urged the larger parties to reach a compromise on their budget dispute.
The party is wary of an election in part because it has failed to clear the 3.25 percent vote threshold for entering the Knesset in all recent polls.
Both Likud and Blue and White are also expected to lose seats in an election, according to polls.
Netanyahu and Gantz have been locked in a bitter standoff over the state budget that threatens to topple the government and force new elections. Netanyahu and Gantz agreed to pass a two-year budget covering 2020 and 2021 as part of the coalition deal between their parties signed in May, but the premier is now demanding a budget that only covers the rest of 2020, citing 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.
While Netanyahu has to hand over the premiership to Gantz if he calls new elections before the Blue and White chief takes over as prime minister in November 2021, the coalition deal made an exception for a failure to pass a budget, leading to speculation the Likud leader was forcing the budget crisis now to avoid having to leave office in 15 months’ time.
Netanyahu and Gantz agreed to create an emergency unity government in May due to the pandemic, after three consecutive rounds of elections — in April 2019, September 2019 and March 2020 — failed to yield a clear winner.