Partnership to end 'much faster than everyone thinks'

Senior Likud source says Netanyahu seeking to dissolve government – report

Irate at Blue and White over combative remarks, PM said to be demanding retroactive change to unity deal; tension flares as Likud tries to block law important to Gantz’s party

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, and then-Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman, at the first meeting of the 35th Government, in the Knesset on May 17, 2020. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, and then-Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman, at the first meeting of the 35th Government, in the Knesset on May 17, 2020. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is looking for a reason to end his partnership with Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party in the near future, prompting another national election that is expected to greatly benefit him, according to a report citing senior sources in the premier’s party.

“The marriage between us and Blue and White will end at the Rabbinate [with a divorce] much faster than everyone thinks,” a senior Likud source was quoted as saying by Channel 12 Sunday. “Netanyahu is trying to find the right timing and pretext to call elections.”

The source said negotiations over the state budget, which must pass by the end of August, could provide such a pretext.

The official claimed Netanyahu’s wife Sara and son Yair were pushing to dismantle the government, with Likud responding that that was an “ugly lie.”

Avi Nissenkorn of the Blue and White Party attends an election campaign event in Shefayim, on July 14, 2019. Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Netanyahu has reportedly been irked by statements made recently by several Blue and White ministers, including Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn defending the justice system from the premier’s attacks and Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen saying her party “doesn’t believe Netanyahu or in Netanyahu.”

According to recent opinion polls, Likud would easily win a potential Knesset election that would be the fourth since April 2019, with support for Gantz crumbling since he reneged on his core campaign promise and joined Netanyahu’s government.

The Channel 12 report said the premier had already made a demand from Blue and White to change a key clause in the power-sharing unity deal, prompting a coalition crisis on Monday.

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 prime minister 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.

But Netanyahu is now reportedly demanding that the deal be changed so that he will remain prime minister if the High Court of Justice strikes down the coalition deal during that time.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz after the presentation of the 35th government of Israel at the Knesset, May 17, 2020. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

The deal says that if the High Court strikes down legislation passed as part of the coalition deal during the emergency period, Netanyahu will be the transitional leader. However, the premier now fears that the court could make such a decision after November, according to Channel 12.

The report said Netanyahu was also demanding that the coalition deal be changed so that the government would serve for a full four-year term instead of the current three, fearing that clause would hand the court grounds to annul the deal.

The High Court has dismissed petitions filed against the unity deal, but has left the option open to strike it down in the future after the various pieces of legislation anchoring it are passed into law.

On Monday, Hebrew-language news outlets reported that Likud was objecting to quickly advancing the so-called Norwegian Law, which is important to Blue and White and is included in the coalition deal.

The bill allows ministers to give up their positions as Knesset members in order to enable a different member of their party slate to take their spot in parliament. It has passed a first reading out of three in the Knesset, and the final two readings are scheduled for Monday evening.

The reports said Blue and White was determined to put the law up for a second vote at the Knesset on Monday, while Likud wanted to wait.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum on May 17, 2020. (Knesset)

Channel 12 said the reason was a tour Gantz held Sunday at the Justice Ministry, seen as a subtle rebuke of Netanyahu’s broadsides against the judiciary, which has put him on trial for corruption.

Likud rejected the report, saying there was “no connection” between the issue of the Norwegian Law and Gantz’s visit.

Netanyahu and Gantz were set to meet later Monday, reportedly to smooth out disagreements between the parties.

Likud’s opposition to advancing the Norwegian Law has in turn caused a minor crisis with the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party allied with Netanyahu, which also wants to advance the law and has reportedly demanded that it be passed this week.

While coalition whip Miki Zohar (Likud) has said the law wouldn’t go up for a vote Monday, the delay would require the approval of UTJ’s Ya’akov Asher, chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. Asher’s associates have said he won’t approve the delay.

The unity coalition deal ended over a year of political deadlock when the most minister-rich government in Israel’s history was sworn in last month. New ministerial positions were created to accommodate the cabinet’s 33 ministers — over a quarter of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers.

Among the new offices created earlier this month was the Alternate Prime Minister’s Office, which will be held by Defense Minister Gantz for 18 months and then be transferred to Netanyahu as part of a power-sharing deal designed to allow him to keep the prime ministerial title even after vacating the post.

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