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Is Israel facing 4th elections in 2 years?

The grim prospect of heading to the polls for the fourth time in two years looms, as the 23rd Israeli Knesset passed a preliminary vote of no-confidence in the government by a 61 to 54 vote this afternoon.

The bill requires three additional successful readings before it passes into law. meaning new elections would be mandated – most likely as soon as March 2021.

Likelihood that the measure would pass heightened significantly with a bombshell announcement of support from Alternate Premier and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. He joins Minister of Economy Amir Peretz and Minister of Welfare Itzik Shmuli from the Labor party who had already declared their intention to vote with opposition parties to dissolve the government.

The Chairman of the Blue and White party issued a lengthy statement last night, declaring fury against Likud faction leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two political rivals had formed a ‘national emergency government’ last May after the March 2020 election; in a fragile coalition aimed at healing rifts after three previous non-conclusive elections amid the burgeoning coronavirus pandemic.

“My fellow Israelis, I entered this government with a heavy heart, but a whole heart. I did so following three election rounds, which didn’t put me in a position to form a government consistent with my values and worldview, under the cloud of the pandemic, looming over our health, our children’s future, and the livelihoods of so many of us. I need not remind anyone that there was no 61-seat majority without Netanyahu, and I decided to spare all of us another ugly and costly round of elections in the midst of a health, economic and social crisis. I decided not to allow Netanyahu exclusive access to the driver’s seat under the circumstances. I had no illusions about Netanyahu.  I was well aware of his track record as a ‘serial promise-breaker,’ but I thought that the people of Israel are more important than one leader, and that Netanyahu would rise to the occasion. Much to my dismay, that didn’t happen,” said Gantz.

“Netanyahu didn’t lie to me – he lied to all of you. He didn’t lead me astray, he led the entire nation astray,” Gantz underscored.

Among his many complaints, the Alternate Premier is most upset about the Prime Minister’s failure to pass a two-year state budget, as agreed upon in the two leaders’ coalition deal. “Millions of citizens are heartbroken, businesses are closing down and more and more people are in distress and poverty, all while the State of Israel is still without a budget. So, Blue & White will vote to dissolve the Knesset,” he said.

“Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to take apart the government and drag the State of Israel to elections. He has chosen to do so by refusing to approve a budget for the state of Israel as agreed and signed upon, and that will bring about the dissolution of the Knesset. Netanyahu likes to compare us to the most progressive and successful countries in the world. Show me one other country where a prime minister sabotages his own country’s budget. Holds up the appointment of a police commissioner. Blocks the appointment of a state’s attorney. Freezes legislative procedures in parliament. The economic assault on the country, in the form of denying the country a budget, jeopardizes the economic stability of the country, as well as the livelihoods and future of every home in this country, and I will not stand by and let that happen,” pledged Gantz.

In a last-ditch challenge to his coalition partner, Gantz said, “The only person who can prevent these elections is the person who decided on them. Netanyahu, the burden of proof is on you. Put a state budget forward, make sure it gets passed and ensure the unity you talk about in front of the cameras. Stop the divisiveness and polarization.”

The Prime Minister’s critics are convinced that Netanyahu will also fail to step down next November as agreed in a rotation deal for Gantz to serve as the nation’s leader, but will instead act to dissolve the government at a time he feels most likely his Likud party would win in the next election.

Other key Gantz statements included condemnation of Netanyahu’s handling of COVID-19. “Netanyahu has used the fight against coronavirus as a personal self-glorification campaign, presenting every step as his own personal accomplishment, as if it this weren’t a massive joint effort, shared by the Health Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Education Ministry, the Economy Ministry, and, of course, the Defense Ministry and the IDF,” said the Defense Minister.

He also brought up Netanyahu’s looming trial on criminal charges, alleging, “Netanyahu is on a path of personal survival. The only index for his decision-making is relevance to his ability to evade trial, which is just around the corner.”

After saying that “I fought for this country that I so love, in uniform” for four decades, including as former IDF Chief of Staff, the Defense Minister said, “For the past two years, and particularly over the past months, I have fought for you, the Israeli people, in every way I could.”

“My fellow Israelis, I have never regretted taking risks for this country, not when there were bullets flying overhead in battle and certainly not when I took a political risk for the good of the nation,” said Gantz, closing his remarks by saying, “If Netanyahu does force elections on us, I will fight to see them end in a broad government, a government of true unity, which is so sorely needed right now. It will be a functioning government, which you, Netanyahu, will not be a part of. A government that will fight the coronavirus pandemic and hate, rather than its own citizens. A government that will be deserving of the nation’s trust and which will offer the Israeli people hope.”

The Prime Minister did not respond to the charges from his coalition partner, but confidantes say the accusations were so blistering they left no alternative for Netanyahu other than end the government he formed with Gantz just months ago.

— By Erin Viner