Netanyahu and Gantz are playing poker with the budget - and their own survival

The deadline for passing a new budget is midnight on August 24, when either Netanyahu, Gantz or the government must fold

August 13, 2020 11:42

The demise of the new Netanyahu government just three months after its formation was prevented — or perhaps only delayed — on Wednesday, when the Knesset voted to give extra time for passing the state budget. 

Both main parties of the coalition, Likud and Blue and White, voted in favour but the deep disagreement between them over whether to pass a short-term budget until the end of the year, or one that includes 2021, remains. 

Wednesday’s vote was the culmination of days of recriminations between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz over the budget — although no one in Israeli politics believes that is the real issue. 

Mr Netanyahu, who has long been in favour of multi-year budgets, has suddenly changed his mind and is insisting one which will only cover the four months until the end of 2020. 

He insists that this is necessary to take drastic steps to deal with the covid-19 crisis and resulting economic crisis. 

Only three months ago, at the height of the crisis, Mr Netanyahu signed a coalition agreement with Mr Gantz in which the new government committed to pass a budget including 2021. 

Since Israeli electoral law stipulates that a government that fails to pass a budget is forced to dissolve and call elections, Mr Netanyahu’s sudden change of mind is aimed at creating another budget crisis next year, in order to prevent the “rotation” between him and Mr Gantz in the prime minister’s job, scheduled to take place in November 2021. 

“We want a state budget and Likud wants a political budget,” said Mr Gantz on Sunday. “There isn’t one economist who supports a budget (just) for the High Holidays. It’s ridiculous.” Mr Gatntz accused the prime minister of provoking the showdown to bring down the government andforce a fourth election in less than two years.  

Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly denied pushing for elections, despite a number of Likud sources confirming that he is indeed interested of taking advantage of polls which predict a majority for the right-wing. 

On Monday he responded to Mr Gantz, saying: “There is a prepared budget. We can pass it immediately. It’s the right budget for Israel.” By Wednesday, both parties had slightly cooled off, Likud agreeing to vote in favour of the law giving an extra hundred days to pass the budget, in its preliminary readings — though not promising to vote in the next three readings. 

Later in the day, when opposition party Yesh Atid proposed a law prohibiting a Knesset member facing criminal charges from forming a government, Blue and White members stayed away and the vote fell. But the crisis is still very much alive.  

The deadline for passing a new budget is midnight on August 24. To prevent the government from falling then, either Likud has to support the law giving another 100 days for a budget in all its three readings, or Mr Gantz must capitulate and allow a short-term budget. 

Otherwise the government will fall and Israel will — unless an unexpected and unlikely majority can coalesce behind another candidate for prime minister — be going once again to the polls. At the height of a pandemic.

August 13, 2020 11:42

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