A coalition party will next week reportedly present a bill postponing the deadline for passing the state budget, in an effort to prevent early elections, amid fierce disagreements between the government’s Likud and Blue and White parties.
The government will automatically dissolve if no state budget is passed by August 25.
Though the coalition deal between Likud and Blue and White mandates a two-year budget, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been pushing for a budget that will only cover the rest of 2020, citing the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, however, has insisted that a two-year budget be passed, as stipulated in the coalition deal, saying it would provide greater financial certainty to those hurt economically by the government’s lockdown measures.
But commentators believe there are other issues at stake, as the passage of a one-year budget — or the failure to pass one at all — could allow Netanyahu to kick off new elections without having to hand over the premiership to Gantz next year, as stipulated by the coalition deal.
In an attempt to temporarily defuse the crisis, legislation is planned to be introduced by the Derech Eretz party, whose two members are former Blue and White MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, the Haaretz daily reported Thursday night.
The reported bill would delay the August 25 deadline by three months, to November 25.
It will be proposed if the impasse over the budget continues until Monday, the report said, adding that it wasn’t clear whether Netanyahu or Gantz would support it.
“It would be unacceptable for Israel to have to face the coronavirus, the flu and also elections during the coming winter,” Haaretz quoted a Derech Eretz official as saying.
“We need to give both parties time to come to their senses,” the official added. “It would be madness to dissolve the Knesset now and would crush public trust in the system ahead of the expected huge health crisis over the winter.”
According to a Haaretz report Wednesday, Netanyahu has decided to seek another round of elections following the Jerusalem District Court’s ruling last week that witnesses will begin testifying in his criminal trial in January, with hearings to take place three times a week.
The report said Netanyahu fears petitions to the High Court of Justice will demand he be barred from continuing to serve as prime minister while he is on trial and that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will back this stance, making it easier for the justices to rule in favor of the petitioners.
Unnamed associates of Netanyahu were quoted as saying that the premier’s main aim in going back to the polls is to regain control over the Justice Ministry and that he would campaign heavily against the judicial system ahead of the elections. The current justice minister, Blue and White’s Avi Nissenkorn, has defended the legal system in the face of unsubstantiated claims by Netanyahu and his allies that he is the victim of an “attempted political coup.”
Netanyahu on Thursday evening dismissed that report and others as “absurd,” but warned that a return to the polls would indeed result if his coalition does not pass a state budget in the next month.
At a press conference introducing the government’s newly appointed coronavirus “czar,” former Health Ministry chief Ronni Gamzu, Netanyahu was asked about reports circulating that he intends to capitalize on Gantz’s falling political fortunes, bring down the government over the budget, and thus avoid having to hand over the prime minister post to Gantz in November 2021 as specified in their agreement.
“I’m not aiming for [early] elections. That’s absurd,” Netanyahu said. “We are in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. We have to deal with it. We also have to pass a budget. It can pass in a minute… or a very short time.”
Netanyahu added: “The only reason we would go to elections would be if we don’t pass the budget. We have until, I believe, August 24… If you pass the budget, there are no elections… And it’s not passed [already] because my partners are refusing to do so.”
Blue and White, he charged, was connecting the budget “to all kinds of political considerations.”
For his part, he said, he remained committed to the agreement on rotating the prime ministership.
The Blue and White party immediately rejected Netanyahu’s assertion that it is to blame for the budget impasse. “The prime minister needs to stop propelling [Israel] to elections and do two things: Take care of the coronavirus crisis with a long-term budget and honor the [coalition] agreement he signed two months ago,” Blue and White said in a statement.
Netanyahu spoke a short while after the release of two new TV surveys showing his Likud losing ground if elections were held today — not to Gantz, but to right-wing party Yamina, headed by Naftali Bennett, which is currently sitting in the opposition.
“I’ve been in politics a long time. I’ve seen surveys rise and fall,” Netanyahu said, insisting that he had never acted on the basis of surveys but, rather, according to the national interest. “And that’s how I’ll keep working,” he said.