Knesset Picks Up Where It Left Off

Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the Knesset. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

The Knesset picked up on Monday where it left off before the Chagim, with calls for unity, demands to bring down the government and a plea for normalcy in the form of a state budget, with the country has been struggling without for a year and a half.

Speaking on the first day of the winter session, President Reuven Rivlin warned Knesset members that social unrest induced by the health and economic crises must be addressed, that it is upon them to restore stability.

“Friends, I feel the air is full of gunpowder. I feel the fury that is flooding the streets. But it is unacceptable that night after night, protesters beat protesters, police beat protesters, protesters throw rocks at police,” Rivlin told the plenum.

“Israeli tribalism is bursting through the cracks… Only by recognizing and listening to each other can we deal with the crisis upon us.”

“Businesses are failing, unemployment is high, the deficit is growing and the medical system us groaning under the burden of the ill. Pass the budget now and give Israel’s economy the basic stability it needs!”

Rivlin also urged the appointment of a permanent police commissioner to end two-years of interim leadership.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‏‏ held out hope that the current lockdown will be eased as infection rates are reportedly falling.

He promised that small businesses that physically receive customers and preschools will open by next Sunday, and other areas of the economy will be allowed to reopen “in accordance with infection rates.”

The prime minister said the rate of coronavirus infection has come down from 15% to 7% in two weeks and that the country was now “on the right path. A path of responsibility and caution. A path of stringency for wearing masks and keeping distance.”

But, he cautioned, “If we act precipitously, if we capitulate to the pressure of every sector, we will very quickly come to another lockdown,” and asked for a lessening in the level of “criticism and violence” in the public debate.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid Opposition introduced a no-confidence bill aimed at getting rid of the Netanyahu government.

“Whoever doesn’t vote in favor of this proposal is a coward,” Lapid said at a Knesset faction meeting. “This government is not fit to lead the [coronavirus] crisis.”

The measure had no chance of passage, after Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party said it would vote with the coalition.

Defense Minister Gantz also called for a budget covering 2021 to be passed by the end of the year. “This is a national emergency situation that requires the passage of the budget,” he said during a faction meeting on Monday.

But his party and Netanyahu’s Likud were still bickering over whether it should be a single or two-year budget.

Gantz warned that time is running out. “Until now we did everything in our ability to allow this government to function and put the wellbeing of the state at the top of the agenda. They called us cowards and we held back. They called us weak and we held back. This chapter is over and done. There won’t be any more restraint.”

He declared “all options are on the table,” presumably including new elections, though Gantz said that backing Lapid’s no-confidence motion was not one of them.

On Monday, coalition MKs were blaming each other for the crisis.

Science Minister Yizhar Shai, of Blue and White, claimed his party was the “responsible adult” in the coalition and charged that Likud’s obstruction of a two-year budget bill, as provided in the coalition agreement, was “choosing cynical politics at the expense of Israeli citizens.”

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin (Likud) blamed Blue and White for the nationwide lockdown, saying the latter’s “populist conduct” had made it impossible for the government to deal effectively with the pandemic.

“Obviously nobody wants to shutter businesses, but in any country that isn’t managed responsibly and doesn’t close when it must, you end up being forced into longer and more damaging lockdowns,” he said in an Israel Radio interview.

“Unfortunately, that happened to us because of the populist conduct of [Blue and White],” he charged.