Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a post on Facebook before the start of Shabbat.
“Because of Netanyahu’s personal considerations, we are rushing towards elections. At the end of this fourth election campaign, I know that Netanyahu will no longer be the Prime Minister of the State of Israel and he needs to know that as well,” wrote Gantz.
“We have not given up the desire to serve the citizens of Israel in a functioning government. But my friends and I are tired of lies. He must meet his obligations to the citizens: a budget, a functioning unity government and a commitment to replace him, without exit tickets and without escape points.”
“Only in this way will he prove that the citizens of Israel are not being held hostage because of the trial that hovers over his head,” concluded Gantz.
But the bill must still clear three readings in the plenum, and Netanyahu and Gantz could yet agree to a compromise to stave off a return to the polls.
Even without the bill, the Knesset was already on track to dissolve later this month due to an impasse over the state budget which has long been held up by Likud. Netanyahu is widely believed to be planning to dissolve the government anyway before the 2021 budget must be passed in March, in order to prevent a scenario where, as stipulated by their power-sharing agreement, Gantz will succeed him as prime minister.
Blue and White has been demanding that a state budget be passed for 2020 and 2021 together — also as the coalition deal stipulates — in a bid to force Netanyahu to honor the premiership rotation clause. If Likud continues to resist those demands, elections will be triggered on December 23 at the latest and held three months later.
Likud prefers the elections be postponed to summer, when much of the population is expected to already be vaccinated against the coronavirus and criticism of Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic may ease.
Gantz’s warning that Netanyahu will not be prime minister comes with Israel’s political system in further flux, following the announcement this week that Netanyahu’s rival from within Likud, Gideon Sa’ar, was breaking away to form his own party.
Early polls showed Sa’ar’s nascent New Hope party getting between 15 and 18 seats if the country goes to elections — shaking up the political landscape and introducing several potential paths to coalitions that do not include Netanyahu, while seriously narrowing the premier’s path to leading the next government.
The polls also showed Blue and White, a one-time challenger for the country’s leadership and the center-left’s greatest hope for retaking power in years, collapsing from its current 14 seats to 6 or 7. (Blue and White won 33 seats in the March 2020 elections, but it split when Gantz joined the coalition, with its Yesh Atid and Telem factions going into the opposition.)
The surveys indicated that Netanyahu’s so-called right-wing bloc, comprised of Likud, Yamina, Shas and United Torah Judaism, would fail to win a majority of 61 seats if elections were held today, upending months of surveys that had shown the four parties passing that threshold easily.