Deal averting government collapse to go up for vote Monday

Knesset to vote Monday on deal between Blue and White, Likud to avoid snap elections, give more time to reach budget compromise.

Arutz Sheva Staff, AFP ,

Knesset plenum
Knesset plenum
Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

Israel's parliament was set to vote Monday on a proposal from its fraught coalition that would temporarily put off the call for a fourth election in less than two years in the pandemic-hit country.

Israel's coalition government -- a broken marriage between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his political rival, Defense Minister Benny Gantz -- has been inching towards collapse for weeks.

Under the current arrangement between Netanyahu's Likud and Gantz's center-left Blue and White, the coalition has until one minute past midnight on Wednesday to agree a budget for the current year.

If a 2020 budget is not passed, Israel's parliament, the Knesset, would dissolve, with new elections held to be held on March 23rd.

Gantz, a former army chief, has accused Netanyahu of refusing to approve a budget for personal political reasons.

The three-year coalition deal stipulates that Netanyahu serves as premier for 18 months, with Gantz, currently the alternate prime minister, taking over in November 2021.

Gantz has insisted the coalition pass a budget covering both 2020 and 2021, arguing Israel needs stability after its worst ever political crisis and with its economy devastated by the pandemic.

Netanyahu has refused to endorse a 2021 budget.

That, according to his critics, is a blatant political tactic to keep the coalition unstable and make it easier for him to sink the government before he must hand power to Gantz.

Late Sunday, Blue and White said it had reached a compromise with Likud to buy more time.

Under the deal, a deadline for approving a 2020 budget will be pushed back to December 31. The government will then have until January 5 to pass a 2021 budget.

"In the absence of the budgets passing by said dates, the bill stipulates that the Knesset will automatically dissolve and elections will be held" on March 23, the statement said.

'Not a politician'

Netanyahu and Gantz both have reasons to avoid imminent new elections.

The premier on Saturday received the first of two jabs, kicking off Israel's national coronavirus vaccination effort, but the country remains in the grips of pandemic-driven economic crisis.

Former minister Gideon Saar has left Likud and is forming his own party to challenge Netanyahu.

Multiple recent polls suggest Saar could peel substantial support away from Netanyahu if elections were held soon.

A March vote also would force Netanyahu to campaign while appearing in court three times a week for his trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

He has been charged with accepting improper gifts and seeking to trade favors with media moguls in exchange for positive coverage, but has denied wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, Gantz's political fortunes appear to have plummeted.

His Blue and White coalition fractured in April when he decided to strike a deal with Netanyahu.

His former ally, Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party, is now the Knesset opposition leader.

Recent polls suggest Blue and White would only win a handful of seats if elections were held soon.

Any further concessions to Netanyahu would likely eliminate Gantz's remaining credibility as a political alternative.

But, as columnist Ben-Dror Yemini wrote in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, Gantz may not be acting purely out of personal political interest.

"We all need to recognize that Gantz is trying to spare Israel yet another needless election," Yemini argued.

Gantz "is not a politician," he said.

"He knows that defeat is waiting for him right around the corner. That is why he, precisely in his capacity as a loser, can afford to act on the basis of what is best for the country."