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Upping pressure on Blue and White, Lapid vows no-confidence vote next week

As defense minister and Netanyahu race to the brink, opposition leader says ‘nothing good will come of this government’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

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

In a move aimed at pressuring the centrist Blue and White party to break ranks with the coalition amid an ongoing deterioration of relations within the government, opposition leader Yair Lapid said Monday that he’ll lead a proposal next week to disperse the Knesset and call new elections.

“The bill will come to a vote. It is time for elections,” he said at the opening of his Yesh Atid party faction meeting at the Knesset. “Netanyahu wants elections in June so he’s playing for time. There is no reason to let him go to elections at the time that’s convenient for him.”

Earlier this month, the Yesh Atid-Telem Knesset party announced at the last minute that it was withdrawing a bill to dissolve the Knesset, slamming former ally Blue and White for not following through on its own ultimatum for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pass a state budget by the end of October.

Under the coalition deal between the parties, the Likud party, led by Netanyahu, and Blue and White agreed to pass a budget running through 2021. Netanyahu, however, is now insisting on separate budgets for 2020 and 2021, with a failure to pass a budget allowing him to avoid handing over the premiership to Blue and White chief Benny Gantz, as he is required to do under their power-sharing deal.

Now, with Gantz having announced a government committee to investigate the so-called submarine affair that has ensnared several of Netanyahu’s allies, the coalition looks more than ever to be close to falling apart.

A man rides in a mock submarine during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct. 14, 2020. (AP/Oded Balilty)

Frustrated by the deadlock in the government, Gantz last week said that he had instructed his party to gather together “all of the relevant bills that will advance equality, fight corruption and other values that are important to us.”

The move would potentially include putting forward legislation to limit the term of the prime minister or prevent a prime minister from serving under indictment — proposals that would likely have the backing of a majority of the Knesset if supported by Blue and White but would almost certainly result in the breakup of the coalition.

Lapid, speaking Monday, said there was no point in postponing the inevitable.

“It is time for elections. Nothing good will come of this government. It is a group of politicians focused only on themselves, on their own jobs, on their petty arguments. They’re not working for the people of Israel, they’re only working for themselves,” he said.

“On December 2, next Wednesday, we will propose a bill to disperse the Knesset. We won’t withdraw it at the last moment, we won’t negotiate over it. The bill will come to a vote,” he vowed.

In an implicit message to Gantz, Lapid added: “To all the parties in the Knesset – this is your moment of truth. December 2, next Wednesday. If Israel is important to you, we’ll put an end to the worst government in the history of this country, we’ll put an end to Netanyahu’s time in office.”

Composite photo of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Ramle on August 4, 2020 (left) and Yair Lapid at the Knesset on May 17, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90, Knesset/Adina Veldman)

At a Blue and White faction meeting Monday, Gantz reiterated the need for a state budget and expressed his lack of fear of possible upcoming elections.

“Everyone’s talking about elections. I’d like to say that I think that the State of Israel needs a functioning government, supported by a state budget and a spirit of cooperation,” he said.

“No, I am not afraid of elections,” added Gantz. “I just don’t think that they’re what the country needs at this time, and I will keep doing everything I can for this government. Not by compromising on my principles, not by compromising on what this country’s priorities should be, not by putting my own needs before the needs of this country.”

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