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Opposition to file bill to disqualify Netanyahu from forming government

Gantz’s Blue and White urged to support move, given budget standoff that could send country to elections; Lapid: ‘All that occupies’ PM is the criminal indictments against him

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March 11, 2020 (left); Yesh Atid-Telem leader Yair Lapid in December 2019. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March 11, 2020 (left); Yesh Atid-Telem leader Yair Lapid in December 2019. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Opposition parties have pledged to submit a bill this week that would bar a Knesset member under indictment from forming a government, which would prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from cobbling together a new coalition, if another election were held.

The move, announced Saturday and Sunday, came as the weekly cabinet meeting was canceled amid a deep disagreement between Netanyau’s Likud party and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White over the state budget, which was threatening to send the country to new elections.

“The fact that there was no cabinet meeting today and we’re galloping toward elections because the prime minister has indictments [against him] and this is all that occupies him is a complete disgrace,” Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, the head of the Yesh Atid-Telem party, said in a statement Sunday.

He said the bill to disqualify Netanyahu would be voted on Wednesday.

Referring to the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic, he added: “People have nothing to eat, businesses are closing. The situation cannot continue like this.”

The announcement came a day after MK Nitzan Horowitz, head of the left-wing Meretz party, also said he would file such a bill.

Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz attends a party conference in Tel Aviv on January 14, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“It cannot be that a criminal defendant will manage a whole country according to whims and criminal interests,” Horowitz said. “The current Knesset has a majority for such a law, and it can prevent fourth elections” since April 2019.

Netanyahu is standing trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in a trio of criminal cases. He denies any wrongdoing.

The legislation would require the support of Blue and White to have a shot at advancing it, and, even then, it does not appear to have a majority.

It comes on the backdrop of growing protests against Netanyahu.

In an interview with Channel 12 news aired Saturday, Gantz refused to say whether he would back the bill.

Gantz also said he did not want new elections, but would not budge on the coalition agreement’s stipulation that the budget run through 2021. He suggested that Netanyahu and Lapid were seeking elections.

“Support for a law like this is right on an ethical level, but to agree to it is to go to elections. We entered the government because it was a difficult time,” Blue and White MK Eitan Ginzburg told Army Radio.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 7, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/Pool via AP)

If fresh elections are called, they would be the fourth since April 2019. The previous three rounds of elections ended inconclusively, but Gantz and Netanyahu agreed on a power-sharing deal after the vote in March. The deal split Blue and White, due to the party’s campaign pledge not to join a government led by the premier because of the graft charges against him.

Blue and White and Yesh Atid-Telem had been on the brink of passing a similar law earlier this year, but Gantz broke away to cooperate with Netanyahu and join a power-sharing unity government with him.

But the law could become relevant again if the budget standoff does trigger elections, since, in that case, a betrayed Blue and White would not be restricted anymore by coalition allegiances.

The budget must be approved by August 25 or the government will be dissolved. While the coalition deal between Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White stipulates the coalition will pass a budget through 2021, Netanyahu is now calling for one that only covers the rest of the year, citing the uncertainty of the pandemic.

The coalition agreement also requires Netanyahu to hand over the premiership to Gantz if new elections are called before the Blue and White chief takes over as prime minister in November 2021. An exception was made for a failure to pass a budget, leading to speculation the Likud leader was forcing the budget crisis to avoid having to leave office.

Blue and White MK Pnina Tamano-Shata attends a Knesset committee meeting on July 12, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Channel 12 reported Saturday that a pair of senior Likud officials had urged Netanyahu to force new elections.

“The meaning of a two-year budget is that [Defense Minister Benny] Gantz will be prime minister,” the two Likud officials reportedly said.

The network also reported Saturday that Netanyahu has begun looking for potential defectors who would allow him to put together an alternative government and avoid elections. It said he recently met with Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata of Blue and White and quoted officials from Gantz’s party saying the meeting was aimed at enlisting her to defect.

“Whoever is looking for her to join a narrow government is wasting his time,” the channel quoted a statement on her behalf as saying.

Likud officials said the meeting between Netanyahu and Tamano-Shata was a routine talk to discuss the coronavirus pandemic.

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