Gantz holds firm amid speculation that Sunday cabinet meeting to be canceled

Senior officials from Likud and Blue and White blame each other for expected cancellation, as election speculation grows amid standoff over state budget

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)
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)

The government’s weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday is reportedly set to be canceled, amid a standoff between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partner Defense Minister Benny Gantz over the state budget.

Government ministers have yet to receive official confirmation of the cancellation, the Kan public broadcaster reported Saturday night. The expected decision to call off the meeting is due to a disagreement between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White over the agenda.

“Blue and White vetoed the agenda and brought about the cancellation of the cabinet meeting,” a Likud source told the broadcaster.

A Blue and White official on the other hand pinned the blame on Likud. “Every moment, Likud is asking to violate another clause in the coalition agreement. They want elections,” the official said.

A cabinet meeting of the new government at Chagall State Hall in the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 24, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)

The development came amid growing speculation that Israel is headed for a new round of elections, due to the escalating political crisis over the passage of a budget.

The government has until August 25 to approve a budget or it will automatically dissolve. Netanyahu and Gantz agreed to pass a budget through 2021 as part of the coalition deal between their parties, but the premier is now calling for a budget that only covers the rest of 2020, citing the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Gantz on the other hand is insisting on a budget that runs through next year.

In an interview aired Saturday, Gantz stuck to his guns, saying he would not drop his demand for a budget that runs through 2021.

“To stabilize the government, a plan is needed for 2020-2021. Not a budget for the holidays or [for a] weekend, a budget for a full year,” he told Channel 12 news. “By the way, all the best economists are saying [this], and therefore we’re insisting [on it]. I won’t concede.”

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz (R) and the party’s then-No. 2 Yair Lapid at a faction meeting in the Knesset on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Gantz said he opposed elections but suggested Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Yair Lapid were seeking them. Lapid, who ran in the elections with Blue and White, broke with Gantz over the latter’s decision to join a government led by Netanyahu due to the premier’s indictment on corruption charges. Numerous polls have forecast the Yesh Atid-Telem alliance that Lapid leads would be the second-largest faction in the Knesset if new elections are held, while surveys have Blue and White hovering around 10 seats.

Despite Blue and White’s poor poll numbers and current coalition frictions, Gantz also said had no regrets about joining the government.

“I understand the hatred toward Netanyahu, I understand the disappointment in me,” he said.

He also refused to say during the interview whether he would support legislation barring a Knesset member under indictment from forming a government, which Yesh Atid-Telem is calling for. Such a law could prevent Netanyahu from becoming prime minister if new elections are held.

Kan reported Blue and White was considering threatening to back such a bill if no compromise is reached on the budget. The broadcaster also said the party was looking into advance legislation pushing off the budget deadline in a bid to avoid new elections.

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.

While Netanyahu has to hand over the premiership to Gantz if he calls new elections before the Blue and White chief takes over as prime minister in November 2021, the coalition deal made an exception for a failure to pass a budget, leading to speculation the Likud leader was forcing the budget crisis to avoid having to leave office.

According to a Channel 12 news report Tuesday, Netanyahu is offering to funnel hundreds of millions of shekels to yeshivas outside of the budget framework to reduce opposition by the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties to breaking up the government and calling elections.

The network said that ultra-Orthodox objections to elections are based on concerns that it would further delay the budget — and with it money for the yeshivas.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri (center) with United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman (left) and MK Moshe Gafni during a joint party meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 19, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Both Shas and UTJ backed Netanyahu for prime minister through the elections over the past year, but have threatened to ditch their alliance with the premier if disagreements over the budget lead to new elections, Kan reported Tuesday.

The heads of Shas and UTJ on Thursday called on Gantz and Netanyahu to reach a compromise on the budget to prevent new elections, but didn’t say whether they back a budget for only the rest of the year or one that covers 2021 as well.

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