Gantz meets with opposition to strategize in event early Israeli elections called

Netanyahu’s defense minister met with opposition leaders as stalemate over national budget could lead to spring elections.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with opposition leader Yair Lapid in what appears to be preliminary jockeying for position before an early Israeli election, Kan News reported Sunday.

Sources in Gantz’s Blue and White party, which is a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition unity government, said Gantz began to coordinate moves with the opposition over the coming weeks as a mandatory December deadline looms for Israel’s parliament to pass the 2021 national budget.

If it fails to do so, the Knesset will automatically dissolve and the country will go to elections, most likely in March.

Gantz also met with the leader of the right-wing Yemina faction, former Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, who chose earlier this year not to join the Netanyahu-led government.

Blue and White and Lapid’s Yesh Atid party are considering several options, and both sides admit that the most realistic path appears to be an agreed-upon law to dissolve the Knesset and coordinate a date for new elections, which would be Israel’s fourth in a two-year span.

Gantz and Lapid formed a united faction in the March 2 national election, but split afterwards when Gantz went back on an election promise and joined a Netanyahu-led government to fight the coronavirus pandemic. An angry Lapid refused to follow Gantz and instead became leader of the opposition, saying Gantz had betrayed them.

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The talks with Yesh Atid involved three options: Coordinating an agreed date for the election, defeating the government with a no-confidence motion but forming an alternative government without going to the polls, and alternatives that would promote legislation but keep the house in session. However, both sides admitted that the most realistic option is to dissolve the Knesset and agree on an election date.

Bennett, who has previously promoted himself as candidate for prime minister to replace Netanyahu, refused to say who he wants as leader should the government fall.

“When there are elections I will say clearly who should lead the country,” Bennett said, heaping criticism on Netanyahu’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

“Right now the direction of the State of Israel is very bad. We are on the road to economic deterioration. The current government headed by Netanyahu is failing terribly,” Bennett said.

A Channel 12 News opinion poll released on the weekend showed that should elections be held now, Netanyahu’s Likud party would win only 28 seats, down from its current 36 seats. At the same time, Bennet’s Yemina would win 22, Yesh Atid 17, the Joint Arab List 13 seats, Blue and White Party 11, Shas 9, United Torah Judaism 8, Israel Beitenu 7 and the left-wing Meretz faction 6.

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Just under a third of Israelis, 32%, prefer Netanyahu as prime minister, while 28% prefer Bennett, the poll showed.