Likud, Blue and White seek last minute deal to avoid elections

Negotiations for compromise on an elusive national budget are aimed at preventing a fourth election in two years.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Negotiators from the top two parties in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government may have reached a compromise on the elusive national budget in a bid to stave off the dissolution of parliament and automatic elections, Kan News reported Sunday.

The Knesset is set to dissolve at midnight Tuesday unless the house passes national budgets for 2020 and 2021, but a last-minute agreement by Netanyahu’s Likud and Blue and White headed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz may avert a vote, for now.

On Monday evening, Israel Hayom reports that Netanyahu sent forth Coalition whip Miki Zohar and Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin to recruit a majority for the bill hashed out between the two parties that would postpone the deadline for passing the budget.

The tentative agreement reached Sunday evening pushes off the date for approving the budget for 2021 by a few weeks. A bill expected to be introduced to the house Monday calls for the 2020 budget to be passed by the end of the month and the 2021 budget by January 5. If both budgets are not passed by the deadlines set, the Knesset will then dissolve and national elections will take place on March 23.

“If the understandings are not reached within the framework in which coalition agreements are fulfilled and the citizens of Israel will not have a functioning unity government … we will withdraw the bill and the Knesset will be dispersed on Tuesday,” a Blue and White source told Kan.

Despite the reported agreement, the two parties continued to attack each other publicly, with representatives of each accusing the other of “living in a movie,” Israeli slang implying they aren’t living in reality.

By law, the Knesset must pass the national budget by December 23 or the house automatically dissolves and the country goes to elections. Gantz has been demanding the budget as part of the coalition agreement with Netanyahu, who has refused in an apparent bid to try and go to elections later in 2021 before Gantz is slated to take over as prime minister next November.

“We will not compromise on the existence of a functioning government while preserving democracy and mechanisms for the rule of law and ensuring a state budget that will take care of the corona economy,” Gantz tweeted.

Whether or not the country heads to the polls in March could strongly depend on how Netanyahu perceives current public sentiment.

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A public opinion poll published by Channel 13 Sunday showed that if elections were held now, the Likud would win 28 seats, a loss of eight from their current 36 seats. The new party led by former Likud veteran Gideon Saar, who broke away from Netanyahu last week, would win 19 seats, the right-wing Yemina Party 14 seats, and Gantz’s Blue and White only 5 – plummeting from the 34 it won in the previous elections in March.

With the most important issue for voters being the economic crisis, the polling numbers show Netanyahu would struggle to form a majority government and may have little choice but to accede to Gantz’s demand to pass the 2021 budget and avoid a spring election – giving him at the same time breathing space to improve his public opinion rating.