'Current situation is worse than the prospect of elections'

Likud source says coalition not working, elections likely, as PM goes walkabout

Netanyahu’s party claims Blue and White trying to prevent school year from opening on time; Gantz’s party says PM squandering government funds ahead of elections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market on August 19, 2020 (Channel 12 screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market on August 19, 2020 (Channel 12 screenshot)

An unnamed senior official in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party lashed out on Wednesday at the Blue and White party over the ongoing coalition crisis, suggesting lawmakers were unlikely to stave off the collapse of the government. Netanyahu, for his part, held a brief walkabout in Jerusalem’s main fruit and vegetable market, a familiar electioneering spot.

“This business isn’t working. From the start I didn’t have high expectations, but I didn’t think it would be like this. It’s impossible to work,” the unnamed official said of the coalition, according to Hebrew media reports. “Will we go to elections on Monday? This government is not functioning. Continuing in the current situation is even worse than elections.”

“We have come up with a lot of ideas to solve the budget issue. So far Blue and White have not agreed to any of them,” the senior official said.

“We have made dramatic compromises for this government. We need to reach an agreement that allows an immediate solution to problems in the economy and solve all the problems stably so that we can work together and not get stuck every week in dysfunction where nothing happens.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, on July 5, 2020. (Amit Shabi/Flash90)

The official added that there have been no meetings between Likud and Blue and White officials to discuss the budget impasse since Sunday. If no agreement on the state budget is reached by August 25, new elections will be triggered.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi speaks at a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, June 10, 2020. (Foreign Ministry/courtesy)

The senior official further accused Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi of “torpedoing” the annexation of parts of the West Bank, a plan that has been shelved after last week’s announcement of a normalization deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

“[Ashkenazi] did everything to torpedo the application of sovereignty and violated the coalition agreement. He did not miss a single conversation with an international body to brief against the application of sovereignty and spoke against it at every opportunity,” the official said.

“[Annexation] wasn’t prevented by that, but in terms of trust and the observance of the [coalition] agreement, this conduct was a violation,” the official said.

The comments came shortly after Netanyahu made a quick stop at Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market in an apparent pre-campaign walkabout — a further sign new elections were a growing possibility. A video clip of his visit featured people calling out, “Bibi, you’re a king.”

The visit came as Likud and Blue and White traded accusations ahead of the looming deadline to pass a state budget.

“Blue and White [members] are once again fighting the government while Netanyahu is fighting the coronavirus,” the Likud party said in a statement. “Today in the Finance Committee they stopped vital [transfers of] money to open the school year, including programs for at-risk children and children in the periphery. Blue and White must stop interfering with the prime minister passing a budget and opening the school year on time.”

Blue and White issued a statement saying that Netanyahu’s government was using the budget to curry favor ahead of the country possibly going to the polls for a fourth time in under two years.

“Likud is violating its promise of unity and stability and looking for a new excuse for elections every day. Whoever has the good of Israel in mind will work to pass a responsible budget and will not splash political money [around] to become stronger in the run-up to the election,” the party said.

“Blue and White is acting and will continue to act with only one motive: to prevent elections for a million unemployed people and for the people of Israel, as pledged.”

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has insisted on passing a budget for 2020-21, as the coalition deal between the parties stipulates, while Netanyahu is insisting on a budget that only covers the rest of 2020, citing the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.

The showdown between Likud and Blue and White has so far also prevented the passage of a bill that could stave off the collapse of the coalition by postponing the budget deadline. If the budget — or the bill to delay the deadline — is not passed by August 25, the country will automatically go to elections in what would be the fourth vote in less than two years.

At a Finance Committee discussion Wednesday, coalition whip Miki Zohar, a staunch ally of Netanyahu, presented four conditions for postponing the deadline, including allocating money in the annual budget for ultra-Orthodox yeshivas and for religious Zionist schools and programs, as well as funding several other education programs and enabling a five percent flexibility within the budget.

Blue and White MK Eitan Ginzburg rejected the demands, saying the committee wasn’t meant to be discussing “an alternative state budget.”

Derech Eretz MK Zvi Hauser, left, speaking during a Knesset Finance Committee meeting, August 17, 2020. (Knesset Channel screenshot)

In the absence of an immediate agreement between the parties, reports said a committee vote on delaying the deadline would not be held Wednesday. That means the committee and Knesset plenum votes are likely to be delayed until the last couple of days before the deadline.

The bill to delay the deadline, proposed by Derech Eretz MK Zvi Hauser, passed its first reading on Monday. It must pass three readings before it becomes law, and the Knesset Finance Committee must vote to approve it for its second and third readings.

Under the terms of the bill, the deadline would be put off by 100 days until December 3. As the bill requires changing the country’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws, it must pass with a majority of 61 out of the 120 lawmakers in the Knesset.

The prime minister — who formed a unity government with Gantz after three rounds of elections failed to yield a clear winner — has been rumored to be seeking another national vote, amid continuous disagreements within the government and to avoid a handover of power in a little over a year, which will see Gantz become prime minister in his stead.

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