Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and chief coalition leader Benny Gantz (R)
Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and chief coalition partner Benny Gantz (R) | Bloomberg
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Jerusalem: Israel teetered on the verge of its fourth election in two years after Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief coalition partner said he would support a preliminary motion on Wednesday to disband parliament.

Benny Gantz agreed to join forces with the legally embattled Netanyahu less than eight months ago precisely to avoid another round of voting. But mutual distrust and constant bickering have made governing nearly impossible as the country struggles to contain a coronavirus outbreak and risks Iran’s wrath over the assassination of one of its top nuclear scientists.

Disagreements over the national budget have caused the current political turmoil.

“I joined this government with a heavy but whole heart” after a third inconclusive election in March, the defense minister told a news conference late Tuesday.

“I had no illusions about Netanyahu and was familiar with his record as a serial promise-breaker” but thought he “would rise to the challenge” of joining forces to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, Gantz said. “But it didn’t happen.”

At the same time, he cracked open an opportunity for the prime minister to avert the collapse of their coalition, telling him all he had to do was pass a 2020 budget by a Dec. 23 deadline and get the government functioning again.

Also read: Why Netanyahu and Saudi’s MBS have good reason to meet

“If there’s a budget and a functioning government, then we’re in,” Gantz said of his Blue and White party. “If there isn’t a budget and there isn’t a functioning government, then Netanyahu has decreed elections.”

If a spending plan isn’t passed by that deadline, parliament automatically dissolves and elections are called.

Another election would be bruising, at a time when virus numbers are still high, unemployment is a steep 18% and the economy is expected to contract as much as 5% this year.

A new campaign would also come at a difficult juncture in the global arena. Iran blames Israel for the scientist’s assassination and has vowed revenge.Netanyahu — who might benefit from delaying a vote until the country’s coronavirus outlook brightens — said his Likud party would vote against dissolving parliament and he urged Gantz to maintain their alliance.

“This is not the time for elections, this is the time for unity,” he said before Gantz spoke. “Now is the time to continue our relentless war against the coronavirus.”

Wednesday’s vote is the first in a series of four that would have to take place for parliament to disband.

While Netanyahu’s approval ratings have dropped over his bungled handling of the virus crisis and his indictment on multiple corruption charges, Likud still fares strongest in public opinion polls. Surveys also give about 66 of parliament’s 120 seats to nationalist and religious parties that have allied under Netanyahu in the past.

Even before it took power in May, the Netanyahu-Gantz government seemed destined to fail.

Many think Netanyahu never intended to honor his power-sharing agreement with Gantz, who is to take over as prime minister in November 2021. A more pliant coalition might also be able to derail the corruption hearings against Netanyahu by passing legislation shielding him from prosecution.

The budget became a major bone of contention after Netanyahu balked at honoring their agreement to pass a two-year spending plan through 2021. The tussle is as much politics as economics because a two-year plan would deny him the ability to bring down the government over next year’s spending plan before Gantz could take power.

Also read: Israel’s sabotage hasn’t destroyed Iran’s nuclear programme, but has set it back


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