Unclear if proposal is legally viable

Opposition seethes as Netanyahu mulls bid to nix September elections

Blue and White chief says no talks underway with Likud for unity government; Yisrael Beytenu: ‘What is guiding Netanyahu is not the good of the nation but fear of losing power’

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a faction meeting at the Knesset, June 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a faction meeting at the Knesset, June 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition leaders were outraged Tuesday night by the news that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was looking into the possibility of calling off the elections he himself called last month, alternately casting the reports as “spin” or a desperate political gambit.

Netanyahu announced earlier he would “consider” a proposal by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to cancel the September 17 vote, called last month after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition following the April election.

Edelstein said: “I found a parliamentary framework and there is an option to cancel the most unnecessary elections in Israel’s history. It is our obligation to allow the 21st Knesset to keep working.”

It was not clear whether such a move was legally possible, after the legislature voted in late May to disband. And at any rate, with only 60 Knesset members of 120 to support his premiership, it was unclear how Netanyahu could hope to govern.

The only viable option appeared to be a potential attempt to bring the opposition’s Blue and White into the fold. But the party rejected that possibility outright on Tuesday, calling it “more spin” from a prime minister responsible for the second elections within months.

Blue and White party leaders (R-L) Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon, and Gabi Ashkenazi, during a faction meeting at the Knesset on May 20, 2019. (Hadas Parush /Flash90)

“The news tonight makes it clear: Netanyahu is afraid of the public’s judgement… There is no negotiation with Blue and White,” said party head Benny Gantz.

Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, whose political wrangling with Netanyahu precipitated the new elections, said: “What is guiding Netanyahu tonight is not the good of the nation but the fear of losing power.”

Yisrael Beytenu said Netanyahu was “beginning to realize” that Likud might lose power in the next election.

“Yisrael Beytenu will only support a broad government made up of the three parties: Yisrael Beytenu, Likud and Blue and White,” it said. Liberman has previously said he’d force Likud to join with Blue and White.

Former Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during his Yisrael Beytenu party session at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 27, 2019. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

Labor’s Itzik Shmuli, a candidate for the party’s leadership, tweeted: “Canceling the election is not legally possible and not ethically proper and thus will not pass.”

He said his party would “oppose any such action, whose only purpose is Netanyahu’s personal survival.”

Meretz chief Tamar Zandberg called on the center-left camp not to provide Netanyahu with “a lifeline.”

She added: “It’s amazing to see how Netanyahu uses Israel as his personal toy. A month ago he moved heaven and earth to move up the elections, and now that he sees the public has tired of these games, he’s doing a U-turn.”

Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli attends a Labor, Welfare, and Health Committee meeting at the Knesset on October 17, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ayman Odeh, head of former Hadash-Ta’al and the prospective leader of the renewed alliance of all four Arab parties, said: “Netanyahu initiated an election and we are heading toward it with our head held high.”

Senior legal sources quoted by Channel 13 news said Netanyahu’s push to cancel the September elections “seems like spin,” indicating the plan was likely to face significant legal hurdles. The TV channel also cited sources within Netanyahu’s Likud party as saying the chances for the vote actually being called off were slim.

Channel 12 first reported that Edelstein had launched a “substantial” push to revoke the new national vote through Knesset legislation.

The network reported that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had earlier told politicians that calling off the vote wasn’t legally possible. But it said a way may have been found.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a State Control committee meeting in the Knesset on December 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

According to the purported plan, the Knesset Presidium would be convened to cancel parliament’s current hiatus. A new law would then be introduced that enables parliament to cancel elections.

However, such legislation would require broad support of at least 80 MKs, according to Channel 12.

The leaders of  Kulanu and Union of Right Wing Parties on Tuesday backed scrapping the elections, despite voting in favor of the new vote a month ago.

On Sunday, both Likud and Blue and White denied another Channel 12 report suggesting they were seeking to cancel the election and form a unity government.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Monday that on the day the 21st Knesset was dissolved last month, Netanyahu offered Blue and White chief Gantz a rotation deal for the premiership, in a Hail Mary bid to build a majority coalition. Gantz turned down the offer, the report said. Likud denied the report.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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