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Netanyahu: Gantz needs to put on brakes

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is calling on his coalition partner, Alternate Premier and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, to reverse course to avoid the prospect of new elections.

Gantz and his Blue and White party joined opposition lawmakers in the Knesset yesterday in a 61-54 preliminary vote to dissolve itself, less than seven months after the 35th Government of Israel was sworn in after three consecutive elections.

The primary cause of the political crisis, according to Gantz, is Netanyahu’s refusal to pass a state budget; which was a corner-stone of the coalition agreement that formed the presiding national unity government.

Gantz also asserted that the Premier has a negative track record of deceiving his past coalition faction partners Yamina, Yisrael Beitenu, Telem and Yesh Atid – all of whom belong to an anti-Netanyahu camp from within the opposition.

“Benny Gantz has to pull the emergency brake,” Netanyahu, who voted against the bill, said in special televised address after the parliamentary session, adding, “He must cease the deterioration that will lead to elections. He must cease the blatant attacks; he must behave differently. It is not too late.”

The Israeli Premier went on to stress that now is not the time for domestic bickering – but rather – it is a time for unity to confront the coronavirus and devastating fallout caused by the pandemic.

“During these dramatic days, we should not head to elections. The nation of Israel desires unity and not polling stations. It wants vaccinations and not election broadcasts. One thing we have learned from the Corona is that this disease does not discriminate. It does not discriminate between seculars or religious, right-wing or left-wing, Jews or Arab; and the only way for us to defeat the corona is to overcome it together,” he underscored.

Critics have expressed skepticism that Netanyahu would honor his rotation agreement that would see him hand over the reins of power to Gantz in November 2021. When asked if the handover was still in the cards, Netanyahu, taking questions after his speech, alleged that Gantz had pursued partisan policies violating the spirit of their unity agreement.

The two sparring leaders have some time to resolve their differences, as the legislation to dissolve the Israeli Parliament requires the passing of three as yet unscheduled votes to become law. The budget dispute could nevertheless trigger a new election in itself, as Israeli law dictates that failure to pass a budget by a 23 December deadline would be manifested by another round of balloting in in March 2021.

Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-serving Premier. He has led the country since 2009 after serving a first term 1996 to 1999. He is currently faced with a wave of street protests against allegations of corruption, which he denies; as well as his handling of COVID-19.

Recent public opinion polls have nevertheless indicated a strong showing for right-wing and religious parties that could rally around Netanyahu or another conservative challenger, former Defense Minister Naftali Bennett of the New Right HaYamin HeHadash faction.