The Knesset plenum is expected on Wednesday afternoon to give preliminary approval for a bill drafted by Yesh Atid-Telem, Yamina and the Joint List of Arab parties to dissolve the current Knesset and thus call early elections.
Once the bill has passed the preliminary vote, it will need to pass three additional votes for it to go into effect and force new elections – possibly Israel’s fourth elections in under two years.
Following the preliminary vote in the Knesset plenum, the bill to dissolve the Knesset will be sent to a committee for deliberation.
On Tuesday night, Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz announced that his Blue and White party will vote in favor of the bill.
Slamming Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Gantz said that the Knesset’s dissolution could be averted if Netanyahu passes a biannual budget immediately.
“The only one who can prevent these elections is the one who decided to have them — Netanyahu,” Gantz said. “The burden of proof is on you.”
In his address, Gantz said he’d had “no illusions” about Netanyahu when he formed the government. He accused Netanyahu of blocking key appointments, delaying legislation and claiming credit for the accomplishments of others.
“Netanyahu does not comply and the public pays the price. Netanyahu did not lie to me, he lied to you. He did not deceive me, but all the citizens of Israel.”
“Netanyahu has made the fight against the coronavirus a personal matter, while making everything his personal achievement. The only rule by which decisions are made is an attempt to get out of his trial,” Gantz said.
“Netanyahu decided to dismantle the government and lead us towards an election. The path he chose is not to approve the state budget,” Gantz accused.
Netanyahu responded to Gantz’s announcement, warning that toppling the government and heading to early elections in the midst of the coronavirus crisis would hurt the country.
“I’ve been saying for a long time, this isn’t the time for elections, now is the time for unity. This is the time to continue to bring vaccines, this is the time to continue our determined war against the coronavirus,” said Netanyahu.
“It’s time to continue to help businesses, the self-employed, the citizens. It’s time to continue to expand the circle of peace, and it’s time to place a unified front in the face of difficult political and security challenges that still lie ahead,” Netanyahu added.
The biggest area of disagreement between the two sides has been the failure to pass a budget. Their agreement called for passage of a budget by August. They then agreed to extend the deadline until Dec. 23, but no progress has been made. A failure to reach a deal would cause the government to automatically collapse and trigger a new election.
Gantz, accusing Netanyahu of dragging out the talks for personal reasons, apparently does not want to wait that long.
Once the budget is complete, Netanyahu would be forced to commit to their rotation agreement next year and yield power to Gantz. But if the government collapses, Netanyahu would remain as prime minister throughout the three-month election campaign and until a new coalition is formed.
Fearing a new election is inevitable, Gantz appears to have concluded that it would be best for the vote to take place as soon as possible, when Netanyahu’s trial is underway and with the coronavirus still out of control.
Netanyahu’s trial is expected to kick into high gear in February when a string of witnesses is scheduled to testify.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, would benefit by further delaying the budget talks. That would give more time for the coronavirus vaccine to arrive and the economy to begin recovering next year, presumably giving him a better chance in elections.
Opinion polls predict that Netanyahu’s Likud party would still emerge as the largest party in the next election, but with far fewer seats than it currently has. Gantz’s Blue and White has plummeted even further, making it in both their interests to compromise and avoid a new election.
In a statement released ahead of Gantz’s speech, Netanyahu accused Blue of White of acting like “a government within the government” and urged his rival not to force a new election.
“Benny, what needs to be done now is to make a U-turn from politics for the citizens of Israel,” he said. “This is what needs to be done now and I’m asking you to do it.”