Lawmakers from the coalition’s Likud and Blue and White parties traded barbs and blame on Sunday morning for the cancellation of the weekly cabinet meeting over the burgeoning budget crisis, as Israel appeared to creep toward a fourth election in less than two years.
A Sunday morning report said senior officials from the Blue and White party have conceded that it was a mistake to enter into a coalition with the Likud party, and that there is no real possibility to resolve the budget crisis because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is determined to take the country to the polls.
“In the end it was a mistake to enter the government under Bibi if after three months everything falls apart,” one unnamed party official told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, using Netanyahu’s nickname.
“We were not sure if Netanyahu would honor the rotation agreement [for the premiership], but now it turns out he is not even waiting until November 2021 but wants to dismantle everything now, simply out of fear that [Blue and White chief Benny] Gantz will replace him as prime minister.”
The pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom reported that an unnamed Blue and White minister told a faction meeting on Sunday that the premier was repeatedly lying to the public.
“The prime minister is lying to the public, not just to Blue and White,” the minister reportedly said. “The person who promised ‘no tricks’ has not stopped cheating since the formation of the government. During a national crisis, he is driving the Israeli public toward a wall at a speed of 200 kmph. It is madness that Netanyahu repeatedly sees only his personal needs and everyone in the Likud party remains silent.”
Meanwhile Likud blamed Blue and White for holding up the budget, saying its demand for a two-year budget, as stipulated in the coalition deal, was irresponsible.
Finance Minister Israel Katz told Army Radio Sunday: “They’ve crossed a red line. Blue and White has slipped from a political disagreement to seriously harming the wider public.”
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 demanding 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, citing previous agreements and concerned that Netanyahu plans to use next year’s budget talks as an excuse to break up the government.
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 now to avoid having to leave office in 15 months’ time.
As acrimony between the parties grew less than three months after the government’s formation, Army Radio on Sunday released recordings of Gantz, which it said were made over the weekend, in which the Blue and White leader was heard saying Netanyahu was inflaming tensions with the intention of dividing the country.
“I think it’s wrong to have a prime minister with three indictments. I have said it and I have not changed my mind,” Gantz said. “I do not divide to rule and I do not spread hate just to strengthen my base. Ask yourself who behaves differently — who spreads hate to strengthen the base and who divides to rule?”
Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn of Blue and White told the Kan public broadcaster that the Likud party was not facing up to its responsibilities during a time of national crisis.
“There is currently a coronavirus and economic crisis, and they should work for the citizens,” he said. “The story of the budget is puzzling and strange.”
Blue and White faction chair Eitan Ginzburg called on Likud to publicly admit that the party was seeking elections, if that was the case.
“The public is not stupid,” Ginzburg wrote. “If you so want elections — get up and say it so that everyone knows. If not, prove it and do what is right for the country.”
Transportation Minister Miri Regev of Netanyahu’s Likud party accused Blue and White of not taking its responsibilities seriously.
“Benny Gantz and Blue and White — enough with the politics. It’s time for you to internalize that we’re in [the period of] coronavirus and everything needs to happen promptly,” she tweeted.
“In a time of national crisis we must send aid to the public immediately. Not only do you not want to get up and go to school — now you also want to shut it down,” Regev wrote.
Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen of Blue and White told the Ynet news site that the premier and the Likud party did not appear to be acting in the national interest.
“I do not see any economic or social explanation for Netanyahu’s moves — perhaps there are political or legal considerations that guide him,” Cohen said. “I see Likud guided by considerations that are not in the interests of the state. If someone really wants unity, they respect the [coalition] agreement.”
Higher Education and Water Resources Minister Ze’ev Elkin of the Likud party said that the crisis could be immediately solved by Blue and White agreeing to the budget demands, but if not, the country would head to the polls.
“There is no reason to hold the citizens hostage just because someone has climbed a tree and does not know how to get down from it,” Elkin told the Kan public broadcaster.
However, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Rafi Peretz said that the slide to elections must be stopped: “We must not go to the polls. The people of Israel will not forgive us.”
In an interview with Kan, opposition MK Moshe Ya’alon of Yesh Atid-Telem called on Blue and White to leave the government, saying that there should be a coalition without Netanyahu instead.
“I call on Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi to leave what is clearly not a unity government. It is possible to form a coalition without Netanyahu who deceived a large part of the public,” Ya’alon said.
Ya’alon later tweeted a direct plea to his former political partner.
“Benny, what else needs to happen or be said so that you understand that you have fallen into a trap? Do you not yet understand that it will not work with Bibi?” Ya’alon said. “What other price do Israeli citizens have to pay because you went astray after a criminal? Get out from under the canopy of the defendant, who only takes care of himself.”
He said the parties could still work together to “enact laws against corruption and decay. We will change the government in the current Knesset, and save the country.”
Meanwhile, opposition chief Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid-Telem blamed both sides.
“Likud says the cabinet meeting will not take place because of Blue and White. In Blue and White they say the cabinet meeting will not take place because of Likud,” said Lapid. “I don’t know if they noticed there are a million people unemployed and an economic crisis. The coronavirus government has finally disengaged and is living in an alternative reality.”
Under their coalition deal, both parties must okay the agenda for the weekly cabinet meeting, generally held on Sundays. But with no agreed-upon agenda, the meeting was called off.
Likud has claimed Blue and White refused to okay an agendas item on a proposal for a NIS 8.5 billion ($2.5 billion) coronavirus assistance program. Blue and White said the item was a red herring and a plan that still required work, maintaining that it was Likud that had refused to put an the agenda a vote on cabinet regulations that would further solidify the coalition deal between the parties.
“The cabinet meeting will not convene tomorrow due to Blue and White’s refusals to put on the agenda a government economic assistance plan by the prime minister and finance minister” Likud said.
“The plan will create around 10,000 new jobs in the economy,” it added. “Likud demands from Blue and White to not prevent the transfer of funds to the citizens of Israel at this time, when it is coping with the coronavirus crisis.”
Blue and White responded by charging that the meeting was called off “due to Likud’s insistence on not adhering to the coalition agreement.”
“This is not the first time Likud has not stood by its commitments, and every other excuse is a complete lie to the Israeli public,” it said.
In an interview aired Saturday, Gantz stuck to his guns on the budget, saying he would not drop his demand for one 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. “I won’t concede.”
Gantz and Netanyahu agreed on a power-sharing deal in May after three consecutive rounds of elections proved indecisive. 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. Lapid and Ya’alon departed to the opposition while Gantz and Ashkenazi entered the coalition.
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 they would further delay the budget — and with it money for the yeshivas.
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.
With the deadline for passing the budget quickly approaching, the heads of the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, which are both members of the coalition, huddled Thursday to discuss the impasse.
“We won’t cooperate with any effort to move up elections. The passing of a budget is the order of the day,” Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman and MK Moshe Gafni said in a joint statement after the meeting.
The Haredi lawmakers said it would be “complete madness” to hold new elections as Israel grapples with the coronavirus pandemic and accompanying economic fallout.
They did not say whether they back a budget for only the rest of the year or one that covers 2021 as well.
A pair of television polls aired Thursday signaled slumping support for Netanyahu’s Likud party, with his right-wing rival Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party predicted to make a major surge. Blue and White was also predicted to lose some of its current power.