Chance of Israeli elections ’50-50′ as Tuesday budget deadline looms

If the budget is not passed, the Knesset will automatically be dissolved, triggering another round of general elections.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

As the deadline to pass a national budget looms, senior officials from the Blue and White party told Israeli media on Saturday there is a “50-50 chance” that elections will soon be called, sending Israelis back to the polls for the fourth time in two years.

The March 2020 coalition agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Blue and White, headed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, stipulates that a budget must be passed by the Knesset by midnight this Tuesday.

If the budget is not passed, the Knesset will automatically be dissolved, triggering another round of general elections.

According to media polls, Likud and Blue and White are predicted to fare poorly in a new round of elections. The Blue and White party is predicted to earn 6-to-7 seats, a steep drop after winning 33 seats in the March 2020 election.

While Likud would remain the largest party in the Knesset with 29 seats, former Likud member Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party is poised to become a major threat, potentially winning 21 seats.

If New Hope forms a center-right coalition with Yemina and Yesh Atid, the party has the potential to unseat Netanyahu.

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Some local media reports say the parties are engaging in last-ditch negotiation efforts to prevent a new round of elections. It would be the fourth round of elections in two years.

Blue and White officials told local media outlets that the party would be willing to compromise with Netanyahu in order to prevent elections.

The officials said Blue and White would be willing to pass legislation pushing back the deadline to pass a budget on the condition that Likud agrees to close loopholes in the coalition agreement that give Netanyahu opportunities to call elections before November 2021.

But on Friday, Gantz released a statement on his official Facebook page indicating that he was unwilling to compromise with Likud.

“I led Blue and White and formed a unity government with Netanyahu because of the coronavirus epidemic and the epidemic of schism and division,” he wrote.

“We will leave the government [intact] only if it works to eradicate both. There will be no compromises.”

One major sticking point in the negotiations between Likud and Blue and White is Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn. Likud is demanding Nissenkorn’s removal from the position or a meaningful reduction in his powers, while Blue and White steadfastly refuses to do so.

In a statement released on Friday, Likud said a functioning government “demands compromises from all sides in order to work together to roll out the [coronavirus] vaccines and provide financial assistance to Israeli citizens.”

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“It is a shame to drag the country to elections at this time. If they force elections on us we will be ready, and we will win.”