“If there was no trial, there would be a budget,” said Benny Gantz in a video posted to Twitter in which he accused the prime minister of launching an “economic terror attack.”
By World Israel News Staff and AP
On Wednesday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the nation on live television to respond to Knesset actions that could launch Israel’s fourth elections in less than two years.
“We don’t need elections,” Netanyahu said during the address, accusing chief rival Benny Gantz of playing politics at the Israeli people’s expense.
Following the address, Gantz posted a video on Twitter accusing Netanyahu of launching an “economic terror attack” on the nation.
“We all know the truth. You know the truth,” Gantz said in the video. “If there was no trial, there would be a budget. If there was no trial, there would be a functioning government. There would be unity.”
According to Gantz, Netanyahu’s reticence to pass a budget is part of an interference strategy related to corruption cases Netanyahu is currently fighting.
On Twitter, Gantz accused Netanyahu of preventing the Israeli military from effectively waging its coronavirus battle based on “political reasons.”
“Who prevented closures of [corona hotspots], for purely political reasons? It’s Benjamin Netanyahu,” he continued. “Who is preventing increased fines and heightened enforcement today? It’s Netanyahu.”
Gantz ended the post by accusing Netanyahu of putting “politics before everything [else].”
Netanyahu’s address and Gantz’s response arrived just hours after the Knesset voted 61-54 to pass a preliminary proposal to dissolve the government.
The vote gave only preliminary approval to end the Netanyahu-Gantz alliance, but could force a new election early next year. The legislation now heads to a committee before parliament as a whole takes up final approval, perhaps as soon as next week. In the meantime, Gantz and Netanyahu are expected to continue negotiations in a last-ditch attempt to preserve their troubled alliance.
By joining the opposition in Wednesday’s vote, Gantz’s party voiced its dissatisfaction with Netanyahu, accusing him of putting his own personal interests ahead of those of the country.
Netanyahu is on trial for a series of corruption charges, and Gantz accuses the prime minister of hindering key governmental work, including the passage of a national budget, in hopes of stalling or overturning the legal proceedings against him. Gantz and other critics believe Netanyahu is ultimately hoping to see a friendlier parliament elected next year that will give him immunity from prosecution.
The government still has not yet passed a budget for 2020, a result of the deep divisions produced by its power-sharing agreement.
In a nationally broadcast news conference Wednesday evening, Netanyahu referred to Gantz’s party as “an opposition within the coalition” and skirted around questions about passing the budget or honoring the rotation agreement with Gantz.
“In dramatic times like these, we don’t need to go to elections. The people of Israel want unity, not ballots. It wants vaccines, and not campaign ads,” he said. “The only way we can defeat corona is defeating it together. We need to put politics aside.”
Israel has gone through two nationwide lockdowns since March, and officials are already warning that rising infections could result in a return to strict restrictions that were only recently lifted.
If a budget for 2020 isn’t passed by Dec. 23, Israeli law stipulates an automatic dissolution of parliament and new elections three months later in late March.
Under the coalition deal, Netanyahu is to serve as prime minister until November 2021, with the job rotating to Gantz for 18 months after that. The only way Netanyahu can hold onto his seat and get out of that agreement is if a budget doesn’t pass and new elections are held.
There were no indications that either side is interested in preserving their partnership for the long run. Instead, the battle is expected to be over when the election will be held.
Although Gantz’s party has plummeted in opinion polls, he appears to have concluded that elections are inevitable and the sooner they are held, the better.
By pushing for an election early next year, he seems to be banking that Netanyahu will be punished by voters for a still-raging pandemic, a struggling economy and the resumption of his corruption trial.
One wild card in any Israeli election will be the administration of President-elect Joe Biden.
“Netanyahu is going to put forward an argument which says ‘I’m the only Israeli leader who can actually stand up against a Biden administration,'” commented Gayil Tashir, a political scientist at Hebrew University,