Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened Blue and White leader Benny Gantz that Israel will go to fresh elections if the government fails to pass the budget he plans to present in the next few weeks, Israeli television reported Friday.
Under the coalition deal between Netanyahu’s Likud and Blue and White, the parties agreed to pass a two-year budget. Netanyahu, however, is now seeking a one-year budget amid the coronavirus pandemic, potentially allowing him to call new elections while remaining prime minister if the move is blocked.
According to Channel 12 news, Netanyahu has told associates he’s “determined” to bring a budget covering only the remainder of 2020 for government approval on the week beginning July 12.
“I had intended to present a budget in another week,” the associates quoted him as saying. “If [Blue and White] want to go to elections that’s their problem.”
Blue and White officials dismissed the comments attributed to Netanyahu as “spin.”
“We’re tired of the spin by Netanyahu, who at every moment wants to change the [coalition] deal,” unnamed party members told the network. “We’re continuing to stand for our demand.”
The report came a day after Channel 12 said Netanyahu threatened new elections during a cabinet meeting, incensed by Gantz’s call for further handling of the pandemic response to be shifted to the Defense Ministry.
During the three consecutive national elections over the past year — the last of which saw Gantz join with Netanyahu’s Likud in a move that led the Yesh Atid and Telem factions to split off from Blue and White — Israel was left with a caretaker government unable to pass a budget for 2020, making the passage of one a top priority of the new government.
Budget discussions are the most contentious of any coalition, and with the failure to pass a budget resulting in the automatic calling of new elections, Netanyahu has in recent years pushed for a two-year budget to reduce the chances of his governments falling.
With budget negotiations expected to be especially difficult in the current unity government due to the inclusion of parties from both the right and the left, Likud and Blue and White included in their coalition agreement a commitment “to pass, in an orderly manner, a biennial state budget for 2020 and 2021.”
But citing the rise in coronavirus cases and the uncertainty surrounding the economy, lawmakers from Netanyahu’s bloc within the government have in recent days been touting a one-year budget that deals with only the next four months. This, they asserted, would allow short-term measures to be put in place without limiting future options. They’ve also noted the support of Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron and senior Finance Ministry officials for a short-term budget.
The push for a one-year budget, however, has led to the suggestion by some that Netanyahu is looking for a way to end his partnership with Gantz’s Blue and White party, prompting another national election that is expected to greatly benefit him.
The coalition deal agreed on by the parties stipulates that if the Knesset is dissolved and elections are called between November 2020 and November 2021 — after a six-month “emergency period” ends but before Gantz becomes prime minister as part of the power-sharing deal — Gantz would automatically become the transitional premier instead of Netanyahu.
The clause is meant to serve as a deterrent against Likud ending the partnership before Gantz gets a chance to be premier.
However, if the government were to fall because it failed to pass a budget, no such transition of power would take place. Passing a one-year budget until the end of 2020 would give Netanyahu a possible way to force new elections in 2021 without having to give up the position of prime minister. A two-year budget would prevent that option until 2022.
According to a Channel 12 report last month, Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox political allies have warned they won’t back new elections before a budget is passed. The Shas and United Torah Judaism parties were key parts of Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc throughout the recent election campaigns and the Likud leader could be reluctant to call a fresh vote without them on board.
On Monday, the Walla news site reported Shas leader Aryeh Deri and UTJ MK Moshe Gafni met with Gantz to convince him to drop his opposition to a one-year budget, but were apparently unable to sway him.