Ashkenazi to Likud: End Government Impasse or Face New Elections

YERUSHALAYIM -
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (Blue and White) threatened Monday that if the government does not end the ongoing impasse over certain key issues – including the state budget – by the end of the month, his party will bring down the coalition, thereby triggering new elections.

The Blue and White co-leader said that there still are no agreements on the state budget or professional appointments and there is no regular schedule for cabinet meetings.

“This government is bogged down in infighting and quarreling,” he told Yediot Acharonot.

Blue and White “joined this government to save the public from a crisis. It is just not working,” he said. “If this does not change – it’s over.”

He added that “a budget could be passed at any moment, it is merely a matter of will. Without an emergency economic plan, this will not happen.”

Israel’s economy has been hit hard from the COVID-19 outbreak and is expected to contract in 2020 for the first time in nearly two decades. It is still using a pro-rated version of the 2019 budget, although lawmakers have approved more than NIS 100 billion ($30 billion) in state aid to help businesses and households hurt by the virus.

Finance Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) hit back at Ashkenazi, accusing Blue and White of “extorting” the government, and saying that even if elections did take place, the Likud would still prevail.

Katz said that he did not wish for a fourth round of elections in less than two years, as “it is not good for the country.”

“We need to straighten up and approve a budget for 2020 immediately,” he said.

In recent days, the coalition partners have revived their row over the most pressing issue facing the government – to approve the state budget for 2020 and 2021.

While Blue and White insists on approving both state budgets at once, given the tight deadline and the fact that 2020 is close to ending, the Likud is demanding two separate votes – one for each year.

Katz promised last week that the long-awaited 2021 state budget would be ready in December amid accusations the government was dragging its heels for political reasons.

Political analysts believe that the Likud is refusing to unite the votes in order to give Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Likud two opportunities – in December, when the 2020 budget has to be passed and again in March, when the 2021 budget must be passed – to dissolve the Knesset and trigger fresh elections, which occurs when the government cannot get its state budget approved.

Under the terms of the coalition agreement signed by the two parties in April, any move to call fresh elections in any other way would lead to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz taking over as prime minister until the nationwide vote was held.

A single Knesset vote to approve both annual budgets, which would also ensure the stability of the political system, has been rejected by the Likud.

Ashkenazi said Monday that politically motivated decisions made on handling the coronavirus pandemic have eroded the public’s trust.

He also accused Netanyahu of not doing his part in the coalition partnership.

“There is no Knesset, no ministerial committee, no economic plan. If we want this to succeed, Netanyahu must make a 180-degree turn. There is no point in things continuing as they are,” he said.

He pointed to the fact that a state budget, which Israel has not passed since 2019, takes between 40-50 days to push through, citing the budgets for 2013/14 and 2017/18.

“We can pass this through by the end of the month, and even ignore any specific partisan modifications to it to deal with them later,” he said.

“You just have to want to do it, nobody thinks that this economic crisis should go on without a state budget to help against it. Treasury officials, the head of the Bank of Israel and financial experts all agree with this. This is just a political issue,” Ashkenazi said.

“[Netanyahu] is trying to keep all of his options open and not fulfill his agreements and this cannot be allowed to continue. This is irresponsible, the public must be given answers.”

Asked about Netanyahu’s accusation that Blue and White was acting as “a government within a government,” Ashkenazi said that any logjam stems from the prime minister’s lack of willingness to make decisions.

“[Blue and White] are not preventing the budget, the legislation or the official appointments,” Ashkenazi said.

“Does it make sense to anyone that ministries would not have directors-general, there is no chief of police or state prosecutor? We want all of these things to happen. None of this is going through because Netanyahu prevents it. The public has had enough of this infighting. They deserve answers,” he said.

Ashkenazi also said that it was “insulting” that Netanyahu hid the contents of the normalization agreements with the UAE and Bahrain from him and Gantz.

“It is insulting not only to the Foreign and Defense Ministries, but for the whole country, that they were not updated on the agreements because we ‘could have leaked them to the Iranians,” Ashkenazi said.

The Likud said in response that “it is saddening that Blue and White are threatening elections during the coronavirus pandemic.”

“It is continuing to attack the government from within as Prime Minister Netanyahu is successfully bringing down the national contagion rate and saving lives,” the statement said.

“It is time for Blue and White to work with the government and for the people of Israel.”