Ultra-Orthodox parties said threatening not to back Netanyahu if election called

After urging Likud and Blue and White to compromise in standoff over budget, UTJ lawmaker says party will oppose any move that would trigger 4th Knesset vote in under 2 years

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center), Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (right) and then-health minister Yaakov Litzman (left) attend a conference in Lod on November 20, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center), Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (right) and then-health minister Yaakov Litzman (left) attend a conference in Lod on November 20, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Senior officials in both ultra-Orthodox parties have reportedly threatened to ditch their longstanding political partnership with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party if a disagreement over the state budget plunges Israel into new elections. Additionally, a Haredi lawmaker said his party would oppose any move triggering an early Knesset vote.

Likud is currently at loggerheads with the Blue and White party over whether to pass a one-year budget, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists, or the two-year budget pushed by party head Defense Minister Benny Gantz and mandated in the coalition deal signed by the two.

Failure to pass a budget by August 25 will trigger automatic elections in November, in what would be the fourth round of voting in less than two years.

The Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) parties have called on Netanyahu and Gantz to compromise and not let the dispute lead to new elections in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

Upping that pressure, senior officials in both UTJ and Shas were quoted Tuesday by the Kan public broadcaster as saying that if Netanyahu refuses to compromise, the parties will refuse to publicly support the premier as they have done in recent elections.

They also won’t commit to backing Netanyahu as prime minister after the election, potentially denying him the necessary support of 61 lawmakers.

UTJ lawmaker Uri Maklev told the Ynet news site that his party would oppose any move that causes elections to be called.

“We won’t help bring about elections,” said Maklev. “If a bill to postpone the budget deadline is filed, we won’t be part of it.”

Likud MK Miki Zohar at the Knesset in Jerusalem on January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Likud faction chairman and coalition whip Miki Zohar dismissed the threat.

“I have no doubt that the right-wing bloc will be preserved,” he said. “I don’t think there is a chance of cooperation with left-wing elements.”

But Gantz said Tuesday in an interview with the Ynet news site that his ties with the ultra-Orthodox parties were “excellent,” adding that the Haredi parties wanted a government that is “stable and continuous.”

Gantz said that “anyone who doesn’t stick to the [coalition] agreement, which was signed just three months ago, will then have to explain what happened. The ultra-Orthodox and all the partners are guarantors of the agreement’s fulfillment.

“I think elections and lack of economic stability isn’t good for anyone in the State of Israel,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz lead a weekly cabinet meeting, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 7, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem)

On Monday, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who leads Shas, warned Likud and Blue and White to ease up on threats of breaking up the coalition.

“The Israeli people will not forgive us if we go to elections,” he said in an interview with Channel 12. “The people don’t understand [this dispute] and want us to work together.”

Deri, who was instrumental in helping bring Netanyahu and Gantz together into a unity coalition, said he was continuing to try and mediate.

“I’m talking to everyone and trying to find various compromises. We have to get past this. This is a broad government that we worked very hard to put together. It has to continue,” he said.

Amid deep distrust between the two parties, Gantz has vowed not to back down from his demand for a two-year budget, as stipulated by the coalition agreement.

In seeking to renege on his coalition deal with Gantz and pass a budget covering only the remainder of the current year, Netanyahu has been citing the uncertainty created by the coronavirus crisis, but many see it as a way for him to back out of the power-sharing arrangement he signed with Gantz, who is slated to take over the premiership late next year.

While Deri said Shas was opposed to going to new elections, he declined to say if he supported a one- or two-year budget.

“We are doing what we can to find a compromise between the two views on the budget,” he said “Everyone has to compromise. We can’t bring the government down over this.”

Also on Monday, Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis warned that if the Blue and White party does not back a single-year budget as pushed by his Likud party, Likud would seek to replace the unity coalition with an alternative government of 61 MKs.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with then-Science Minister Ofir Akunis (L) at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting on December 22, 2019, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

“I, and Likud, don’t want the Knesset to disperse, but rather that an alternative government be formed within the 23rd Knesset,” he said, without specifying how a majority of 61 MKs from the 120-seat Knesset would be achieved.

Likud “isn’t going to blink” in the standoff with Blue and White over the budget, Akunis asserted.

“Everyone will know who led Israel to a fourth election” if elections are eventually called, he said. “The blame will all go to Gantz.”

Also Monday, Netanyahu told a meeting of his Likud faction at the Knesset that the budget must be passed or the country will need to make “significant cutbacks” while the economy was already hamstrung by the coronavirus outbreak.

“This is not the time for cutbacks,” Netanyahu said. “This is the time to provide money to the citizens.”

Despite Akunis’s assurances, Netanyahu is widely believed to be doubling down on the single-year option as a way of leaving himself the option of dissolving the government next year by failing to pass a 2021 budget — the only option that, according to his complex and convoluted deal with Gantz, who is also alternate prime minister, will allow him to send the country to a new election without Gantz automatically becoming prime minister in the interim.

The unity government, formed after three successive elections proved inconclusive and finally sworn in on May 17, has since been beset by wrangling and blocking maneuvers between the right-wing Likud and centrist Blue and White.

On Sunday, coalition whip Zohar told the Kan public broadcaster, “There is a gaping chasm between us and Blue and White on many topics at an ideological level.”

“It is a like a couple that wants to divorce and that at any moment” will begin proceedings to end the marriage, he said. “That is the feeling at the moment: that it doesn’t matter what we do, it is going to end between us and Blue and White.”

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