Israel Set for Snap Election as Budget Deadline Nears

YERUSHALAYIM -
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu speaks in the Knesset Monday night. (Knesset Spokesman)

Israel on Tuesday was on course for a fourth national election in two years after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his main governing partner, Benny Gantz, failed to resolve a dispute over the budget.

By a roll-call vote of 49 to 47, the Knesset plenum after midnight Monday rejected in its first reading a bill that would extend Tuesday night’s deadline to pass the 2020 and 2021 state budgets.

Had it passed, the bill, an amendment to Basic Law: The Knesset, would have delayed the deadline for passing the 2020 state budget from December 23 to December 31. The deadline for approving a budget covering 2021 would have been January 5. The bill stipulates that if the budgets are not passed by said dates, the Knesset will automatically dissolve and elections will be held on March 23, 2021.

More than 50 MKs spoke prior to the vote on the bill. Shortly before voting began, Netanyahu asked to address the plenum. “I was held up because I was talking to one of the heads of one of the largest companies in the world that is developing vaccines. I asked him to bring forward the shipments of vaccines to Israel, and I took the opportunity to ask him about the developments regarding the mutation. He said…that in their estimation, the vaccine we have in our hands can treat the mutation with great efficiency… This, of course, is great news for mankind and the people of Israel… During the day I worked with my colleagues on closing the skies against the mutation, which may already be here.

“At this time we should have been uniting forces to prevent these unnecessary elections. At the last moment (Blue and White Chairman) Benny Gantz backed out of the agreements we had to stop the clerical legal dictatorship we have here, but he could not withstand the pressure from (Justice Minister Avi) Nissekorn and his friends, and we cannot agree to that, and this is why Blue and White are going to drag us to unnecessary elections,” Netanyahu said. “I am not afraid of elections. We are prepared for them and we will win, but it’s unnecessary. I will vote for the continued existence of the Government.”

Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid-Telem) retorted, “Mr. Prime Minister, who are you kidding? You don’t care about the mutation [of the virus]; you only care about the rotation [of the premiership].”

The bill failed to pass after Knesset members from the coalition – MKs Michal Shir from the Likud and Assaf Zamir, Ram Shefa and Miki Chaimovich from Blue and White – voted against it.

Shortly after the vote, Shir announced she would be resigning from the Knesset and joining Gideon Sa’ar’s new party.

“I am at peace with my decision to do the least I can to end this embarrassing show of a stuck and conflicted government which is holding an entire country hostage for political seats, and therefore I will resign from the Knesset and join ‘New Hope’ led by Gideon Sa’ar,” she wrote on Twitter.