Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apparently accepted an offer from the Blue and White Party headed by his rival Benny Gantz that would prevent the dissolution of the Knesset. “Out of national responsibility,” explained Netanyahu, “I decided to accept the compromise proposal of [Zvi] Hauser MK.”
Hauser’s proposal pushes the budget deadline back 100 days until a long-term solution is reached. Netanyahu stressed that it is “time for unity and not for elections” while accusing Blue and White of acting as a “government within the government”. He also acknowledged Gantz’s agreement to Hauser’s proposal and said that if they worked together, the plans and agreements would be implemented. This depends on Gantz, as Netanyahu has said that he has no intention of appointing a new state prosecutor. This all happened at a time when the Knesset was set to meet yesterday to approve the general budget or dissolve the current parliament.
To avoid the fall of the government and the holding of yet another General Election — it would be the fourth in 18 months — Hauser, who is the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee in the Knesset, presented his proposal on Saturday to settle the budget crisis afflicting the current government coalition. It was an attempt to avoid the second scenario, as the law states that in the event that the general budget is not approved within 100 days of the formation of the government, the Knesset will automatically dissolve itself, and elections will be held. Initially, Hauser’s proposal was welcomed by Netanyahu and his Likud party; Gantz said that he was studying it “positively”. The proposal still needs to pass its second and third reading to be put into effect.
Nobody wants another election, but each side is accusing the other of pushing for one. Netanyahu has insisted that given the security situation and the Covid-19 pandemic, Israel needs stability, not elections. Gantz, meanwhile, has stressed that the country needs a responsible and long-term budget; another costly election, he said, would suggest national irresponsibility and ignore the will of the people. It seems obvious that Netanyahu and Gantz are exhausting the margin for manoeuvre in their eagerness to show inflexible positions and force the other to choose between compromise and a consensual formula that gets everyone out of the impasse, or an early election.
Netanyahu knows that going to another election now may not be beneficial for him, but approving a two-year budget will deprive him of the main card that could justify an election in twelve months’ time. It is worth remembering, of course, that he is also facing trial in January on corruption and fraud charges. The Supreme Court has yet to decide if he can continue as prime minister with full powers during his trial. This is bound to be influencing Netanyahu’s thoughts and tactics as he seeks immunity for himself and the preservation of his position, as well as protection from any future legal action.
Gantz wants to rob Netanyahu of the budget card after realising that being “Alternate Prime Minister” doesn’t necessarily mean that he will take office. Hence, in his view, an election now is better than at a time which suits his rival. In the event that a legal solution is reached that leads to Hauser’s proposal being implemented, the political dispute will be able to continue without the possibility of the government being brought down. The challenges facing Israel, including the pandemic and the regional situation, probably mean that Netanyahu and Gantz will both climb down to reach the necessary compromise.
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