19:02 GMT20 September 2020
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    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and opposition Blue and White leader Benny Gantz managed to cobble together a grand coalition unity government in May after an unprecedented third round of elections saw neither side gaining enough support to form one independently.

    Israel’s coalition government took another step toward dissolution on Sunday after the Blue and White Party cancelled a scheduled cabinet meeting over what the party said was “Likud’s insistence not to uphold the coalition agreement” and failure “to approve government regulations that would ensure its stability.”

    In a press statement, the party alleged that “this is not the first time the Likud hasn’t kept its promises, and any other excuse is a lie to the Israeli public.”

    The conflict between the two major parties in the ruling coalition began in June and centers around the budget, with Blue and White seeking a two-year budget, while Likud wants one running only through the end of the year in light of the economic uncertainty associated with the coronavirus crisis.

    In a statement late Saturday, Likud said that “the cabinet meeting will not be held…because of Blue and White’s refusal to discuss a proposed 8.5 billion shekel [$2.5 billion US] economic aid package from the prime minister and the finance minister, which includes assistance for at-risk sectors of the population.”

    On Sunday, an unnamed Likud official told Army Radio that the coalition was “dying” and that “the cooperation between Netanyahu and Gantz” was “over.”

    Meanwhile, an unnamed Blue and White official speaking to the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper said that “in the end it was a mistake to enter the government under Bibi [Netanyahu] if after three months everything falls apart.”

    Likud Looking for Blue and White-Free Coalition

    Israel Hayom reported Sunday that Likud has been “sending out feelers” to opposition parties to put together a new coalition excluding Blue and White. However, both the Yamina (‘Rightwards’) alliance and former Netanyahu Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu have reportedly rejected the idea.

    Speaking to Channel 12 on Saturday, Gantz said a two-year budget was necessary “to stabilize the government,” and suggested that “all the top economists” agreed with him. “I won’t give up on it,” he promised.

    Gantz, currently serving as defence minister and rotating prime minister, added that there were only two people interested in fresh elections – the current prime minister and Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition Yesh Atid party.

    In the interview, Gantz also refused to rule out supporting legislation to prevent a Knesset member under indictment from serving as prime minister, which would disqualify Netanyahu from the post amid allegations of corruption, if the coalition did collapse. “We cannot advance it at the moment in the framework of the coalition agreement in which we are in. We will see what we will do if Netanyahu will make this mistake and drag the State of Israel to elections at its most difficult time,” he said.

    Netanyahu’s criminal trial on charges of bribery and breach of public trust is expected to begin in January 2021. Gantz has said in a recent conversation with activists leaked by Army Radio that he felt it was “wrong to have a prime minister with three indictments” and that his position on this had not changed.

    The coalition now has until August 25 to agree on a budget, or be dissolved automatically. Under the coalition agreement, Gantz would have automatically become prime minister if Netanyahu called for new elections before the Blue and White leader’s scheduled rotation to the post in November 2021. However, this provision does not apply in the event of a budget deadlock, meaning elections will be called if the issue is not resolved.

    Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who complained about the political deadlock which led the country to three elections over the past year and a half, slammed the government late last month over the growing squabbling between coalition partners, tweeting that he saw “developments in the Knesset with deep concern as they shake the already fragile relations between coalition partners.”

    “Stop the talk of early elections, of that terrible option at this time, and save yourselves from it. The State of Israel is not a rag doll you drag around as you squabble,” Rivlin urged.

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