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Shas party chief predicts Knesset won’t dissolve this week

Aryeh Deri says Likud, Blue and White discussing briefly pushing off budget deadline to allow for more time to reach deal preventing early elections

Interior MInister Aryeh Deri speaks to reporters after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in Jerusalem on December 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Interior MInister Aryeh Deri speaks to reporters after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in Jerusalem on December 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri on Sunday predicted that Israel’s fourth elections in two years will not be called immediately, as the coalition’s Likud and Blue and White parties continued talks ahead of the upcoming deadline to pass a state budget.

“I have a reasonable basis to assume the Knesset won’t dissolve this week,” Deri told reporters after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in Jerusalem, without further elaborating.

He said he hoped Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Blue and White) would reach an agreement before Tuesday night, when the Knesset will dissolve if no state budget — or an agreement to delay its passage — has been approved.

“Elections can’t be held; this is unnecessary — the people don’t want this,” Deri said.

In separate remarks to the Kan public broadcaster, Deri clarified that he did not believe that the Knesset would dissolve this week, “but that doesn’t mean it won’t dissolve next week.” He said Likud and Blue and White were currently discussing a short-term delay of the budget deadline to allow for more time for reach an agreement on other issues.

Deri heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which is part of Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seen during a vote at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Deri’s comments dovetailed with a Channel 12 news report, which said Netanyahu and Gantz were considering swiftly passing a law to postpone the budget deadline for a second time, giving them breathing room to pass more complex legislation regarding the state budget, and changes to the laws anchoring their power-sharing agreement.

In August, the parties reached a last-minute deal to avert early elections and delay the budget deadline until December 23.

A failure to pass a budget is the lone loophole in the rotation agreement that would let Netanyahu avoid having to give up the premiership to Gantz in November 2021. Likud has been holding up the budget for months in an effort to renegotiate a more favorable coalition deal that would see Netanyahu’s one-and-half-year term extended at the expense of Gantz’s equivalent allotment of time as premier. Likud is also seeking to curb the influence of Blue and White’s Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn.

Blue and White leaders had been set to meet Sunday night to discuss the talks with Likud, but Hebrew media reports said that the meeting was canceled.

Earlier Sunday, Blue and White denied that an agreement to stave off elections had been reached with Likud that included reducing Nissenkorn’s powers.

An unsourced report by the Haaretz daily claimed Gantz had agreed to clip Nissenkorn’s wings in exchange for closing the budget loophole. The report said there was opposition to the move within Blue and White, including from its No. 2, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, and that it was unclear whether the deal could be approved by the party.

Fierce disagreements between Gantz and Nissenkorn were reported by Channel 12, with the defense minister charging overnight that Nissenkorn “is more concerned with his own job than with Blue and White.”

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn seen during a visit at the Jerusalem Municipality on November 10, 2020.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu is said to be primarily interested in preventing Nissenkorn from appointing a state attorney and attorney general — two positions seen as critical to the prime minister, whose criminal trial is slated to resume soon — and new Supreme Court judges of his liking. Nissenkorn also opposes efforts by Netanyahu allies to reform the justice system, appoint more conservative judges and limit the power of the courts more broadly.

A joint statement issued by Gantz, Ashkenazi, and Nissenkorn alleged that “the media publications are false and don’t reflect Blue and White’s conduct. We won’t compromise on maintaining a functioning government while safeguarding democracy and law enforcement bodies and guaranteeing a state budget that will take care of the economic coronavirus [fallout]. Any report or spin invented by interested parties is the sole responsibility of the reporter. Enough with the lies.”

While Blue and White has asserted that Likud should be expected to adhere to the agreement that the parties signed, Netanyahu’s faction is seen to be taking advantage of Gantz’s slate’s almost complete decline in the polls since he decided last March to abandon his main election promise and serve in a Netanyahu-led government, after declaring for months that the Likud leader could not be trusted.

Blue and White sources told Haaretz that the party would insist on closing the loophole that allows Netanyahu to avoid handing over power to Gantz by withholding the state budget. The sources acknowledged the chances for Likud agreeing to that were not high, but added that Netanyahu could agree to it in light of unflattering recent opinion polls.

Haim Ramon in the Knesset in 2010. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Haim Ramon in the Knesset in 2010. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

Not all members of Blue and White are happy with the negotiations, and many of them are reportedly preparing to oppose a deal with Likud if one is reached or even to resign. Coupled with several rebel Likud members who have formed a new rival party under MK Gideon Sa’ar, that means even if a compromise is reached, it will not necessarily have a sufficient majority of supporters in the Knesset.

The criticism also concerns Gantz’s decision to use former minister Haim Ramon as his representative in the negotiations. Ramon, who was convicted in the past of a sexual offense, is a proponent of judicial reforms vehemently opposed by Nissenkorn, who was not told ahead of time that Ramon would represent the party in the talks.

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