What happened: Last night Defence Minister Benny Gantz announced that his Blue and White Party would vote today with the opposition to dissolve the Knesset.
- In his combative address yesterday evening, Gantz said: “I had no illusions about Netanyahu. I was well aware of his track record as a ‘serial promise-breaker,’ but I thought that the people of Israel are more important than one leader, and that Netanyahu would rise to the occasion. Much to my dismay, that didn’t happen. Netanyahu didn’t lie to me – he lied to all of you. He didn’t lead me astray, he led the entire nation astray.”
- He accused the Prime Minister of dragging the Israel to elections. “He has chosen to do so by refusing to approve a budget for the State of Israel as agreed and signed upon, and that will bring about the dissolution of the Knesset… Netanyahu committed to pass a budget in August, and naturally did not stand by his word. He promised that it would happen in December and is not following through. Does anyone believe him anymore? Millions of citizens stand heartbroken watching businesses they’ve built over lifetimes fall apart in front of their eyes. Business are closing, hundreds of thousands of unemployed don’t have the slightest ray of hope, while whole families are struggling to survive. And the State of Israel has no budget. That is why Blue and White will vote in favour of the Knesset’s dissolution tomorrow.”
- However, Gantz did leave open the possibility to maintain the partnership, saying: “Netanyahu, the burden of proof is on you. Immediately table the budget for the government, make sure to pass it and ensure unity.”
- Responding to the speech, Coalition Chairman (Likud) Miki Zohar said, “While the Likud works only for the public in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, Blue and White work only for Benny Gantz to become prime minister. They are dissolving the Knesset and dismantling the government while harming the citizens of Israel for a political whim.”
- The two Labour Party ministers, Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli, along with the two-person Derech Eretz faction have also said they would vote with the opposition to dissolve the government.
- Gantz was also praised by his former partner and Leader of Opposition Yair Lapid, “For the past few days I’ve been calling on Benny Gantz to put the past behind us and vote with Yesh Atid on dispersing the Knesset. This evening he announced that he would support our bill and I congratulate him for that.”
Context: The vote today is only a preliminary reading of the bill; it needs to pass three more readings before it becomes law, and the country will then face its fourth election in two years.
- If the government were to pass a budget for 2021, Netanyahu would be committed to the rotation agreement, which would allow Gantz to replace him as prime minister in November 2021.
- If the government collapses now, Netanyahu would remain interim prime minister throughout the election campaign and until a new coalition is formed.
- Netanyahu is thought to be wary of an election campaign now before a coronavirus vaccine arrives, with unemployment high and ahead of the evidentiary stage of his trial on corruption charges.
- However, the polls still give his Likud Party the lead. This morning Maariv published its latest poll, showing the Likud with 29 seats, Yamina 22, Yesh Atid-Telem 18, Joint List 12, Blue and White 10, Yisrael Beiteinu 8, Shas 8, United Torah Judaism 7, and Meretz 5.
Looking ahead: If the bill passes its preliminary reading later today, it will then go to the Knesset House Committee, which is chaired by Blue and White faction chairman Eitan Ginzburg. He will decide when the bill returns to Knesset for the final three votes. He could delay it to allow Likud and Blue and White to reach a compromise or bring it to a Knesset vote in the next few days.
- If the bill passes, the Knesset will then hold another vote to decide the date of the election, which by law needs to be within six months.
- The fixed deadline to pass the budget is December 23. If the budget is not passed, the Knesset is automatically dissolved and the election day is fixed for March 23.