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To pass key bill, Gantz said to agree to Likud demand to amend coalition deal

So-called Norwegian Law to be voted on later in the day, while sources say unity deal to be changed to protect Netanyahu from court banning him from alternate PM post

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 7, 2020. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 7, 2020. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

A standoff between coalition partners Likud and Blue and White was resolved Monday, Hebrew media reports indicated, enabling a bill urgently sought by the latter to be advanced to the Knesset — reportedly in return for reopening the unity government agreement between the sides to make a key adjustment.

The parties agreed to advance the so-called Norwegian Law, allowing ministers to give up their positions as Knesset members in order to enable other members of their party slate to take their spot in parliament, reports said.

The bill will be brought to its second and third readings later in the day. If it clears the plenary votes, it will become law.

The bill is important to Blue and White as of its 15 MKs, only three are not currently serving ministers or deputy ministers and are able to spend time in Knesset committee and on daily affairs.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had delayed the vote on the legislation for leverage, with reports saying he was seeking in return to make a retroactive change to the unity coalition deal between Likud and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s party.

The coalition deal agreed on by the parties stipulates that if the High Court of Justice strikes down parts of the coalition deal before November 2020, a new election will be called and Netanyahu will remain transitional prime minister.

But 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 and calling new elections before Gantz gets a chance to be premier.

But Netanyahu was now reportedly demanding that the deal be changed so that a High Court intervention in the deal at any time during the government’s tenure will trigger a new election, with Netanyahu at the helm.

Netanyahu fears that the court will ban him from serving in the role of alternate prime minister starting in November 2021 as agreed upon with Gantz, due to his criminal trial. His latest demand came as he feared the court could make such a decision after November, according a Channel 12 news report.

A source in Likud told the Kan public broadcaster that Gantz agreed to make the change sought by Netanyahu.

“Blue and White caved. We will amend the agreement and ensure the continued term of the alternate prime minister in a year and a half,” the source said.

However, Blue and White sources speaking to media denied this, saying the party had agreed only to consider changing the deal.

The bargain was reached despite an earlier meeting between Likud leader Netanyahu and Gantz reportedly failing to produce a settlement.

New Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn speaks during a ceremony at the Justice Ministry on May 18, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

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

The Norwegian Law has faced criticism for increasing government expenditure by maintaining ministers as well as lawmakers to take their places in the Knesset.

Monday’s agreement between the two sides came amid reports of increasing tensions in the government.

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.”

In addition, Blue and White’s leaders are said to be against Netanyahu’s stated intention to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank next month.

Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen at the Ministry of Social Equality in Jerusalem on May 18 2020. (Flash90)

The Netanyahu-Gantz coalition deal allows the prime minister to advance moves to annex West Bank territory allocated to Israel under the Trump administration’s peace proposal from July 1, whether Gantz backs such moves or not. But the US is reportedly anxious that Israel not move ahead with unilateral annexation unless both key components of the unity government — Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White — are on board.

While Gantz and his party deputy, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, both publicly back US President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan, unveiled in late January, they have not endorsed Netanyahu’s planned unilateral annexation of territory allocated to Israel under the proposal.

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