Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party said Tuesday it will not take part in a plenum vote Wednesday on an opposition bill that would prevent a Knesset member under indictment from forming a government. The bill is intended to bar Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from assembling a coalition if another election is held.
The legislation requires the support of Blue and White to have a shot at advancing, and even then it does not appear to have a majority. However, such a stand would likely cause the government to fall since it would end the Netanyahu-Gantz partnership.
“Our principled stance on the matter hasn’t changed and won’t change, but at this time, this is only an effort to undermine the stability of the entire political system,” Blue and White said in a statement Tuesday.
Blue and White had voiced support for the legislative proposal before eventually agreeing to form a government with Netanyahu after inconclusive elections in March — the third in under a year.
Blue and White and Netanyahu’s Likud party are now at odds over the passage of a state budget and face an August 25 deadline to pass one or new elections will be called. The sides are currently looking at passing a bill to delay the deadline.
“In the middle of one of the gravest crises in the country’s history, we’re choosing to do everything to prevent elections that will bring an economic disaster on the economy and rip Israeli society to shreds,” Gantz’s party said.
It also reiterated its call for the government to pass a budget through 2021, as agreed with Likud as part of the coalition deal between the parties.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, again called for a budget that only covers the rest of the year, which he says is needed because of the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
A failure to pass a budget or the approval of a short-term one could allow Netanyahu to go to new elections without having to hand over the premiership to Gantz, as stipulated in their power-sharing agreement. Meanwhile top economic officials have voiced support for a budget that encompasses 2020-2021. These factors have led to speculation Netanyahu is forcing the budget crisis as a political stratagem.
Opposition parties Yesh Atid-Telem and Meretz have said they will submit the bill to disqualify Netanyahu, to be voted on Wednesday.
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 comes on the backdrop of growing protests against Netanyahu.
Meanwhile, President Reuven Rivlin came out strongly Tuesday against the possibility of new elections.
“I won’t restate the warnings which you know well. I will just say this, as a citizen of this country — it is not possible. It cannot be that we continue to deal with this as if it were a logical possibility while we are counting our dead,” a statement from Rivlin’s office quoted him as saying, apparently in reference to those who have died from COVID-19.
The president added: “If you take us there, you the elected officials of whatever party, if you take us to that dreadful nadir, you will bring down upon this country a hard, painful and unforgivable blow.”
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 last 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.