Netanyahu, Gantz agree on plan to postpone election

Likud, Blue and White delay budget deadline, automatic Knesset dispersal

Defense Minister Benny Gantz talks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi walks by at a cabinet meeting on June 7 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz talks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi walks by at a cabinet meeting on June 7
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday instructed the Likud’s representatives in the Knesset House Committee to present a bill that would extend Tuesday night's deadline to pass the state budget.
The extension bill will now give both parties two more weeks to resolve their differences on the budget, and if not passed by January 5, early elections will be held on March 23, the fourth time in two years. 
Netanyahu told a conference of deputy mayors in Eilat on Sunday evening that after a weekend of negotiations with Blue and White, he believes early elections can be avoided.
“I am still making a strong effort to prevent elections, because at this time, when we are concerned about a mutation, the last thing we need is an election,” he said.
Sources close to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz said he was in favor of postponing the deadline to allow a final effort to resolve disputes with Likud and enable a functioning government with the current Knesset. But fellow Blue and White ministers Avi Nissenkorn and Gabi Ashkenazi were reported to be far more skeptical.
The proposal being worked on by representatives of Likud and Blue and White would weaken the justice minister by removing his right to select the next state prosecutor and attorney-general, and his control over the Ministerial Committee on Legislation.
The coalition would be given another seat on the judicial selection committee, changing how Supreme Court judges are picked.
The concessions Netanyahu would make would be to agree to maintain the rotation in the Prime Minister’s office next November and leaving Nissenkorn in place in the Justice Ministry.
The deal is intended to prevent elections when Likud and Blue and White have lost support to the New Hope party of former Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar. A poll aired on Channel 13 on Sunday night gave Blue and White a record-low five seats, teetering on the 3.25 percent electoral threshold. The survey, taken by pollster Camil Fuchs, predicted 28 seats for Likud and 19 for New Hope.
In a meeting that raised eyebrows, Sa’ar and Gantz met on Sunday and Gantz also sent messages to the MKs in his faction and to the media, urging patience as coalition talks aimed at preventing early elections progress with the Likud.
Gantz promised to keep the MKs updated on the talks and the faction is set to hold a critical meeting on Monday.
“These are critical days, and I understand the noise and the stress involved,” Gantz wrote his MKs. “Despite this, I ask all of us to maintain restraint. I am acting on behalf of Blue and White and the important interests that brought us here, and I ask all of you to behave cautiously and not to create additional noise within the public discourse. Any irresponsible statement harms us and our resilience.”
Together with Ashkenazi and Nissenkorn, Gantz sent the media a joint statement, amid reports of tension between the three over reported concessions in the coalition talks.
“The media discourse is false and does not reflect the way things are run in Blue and White,” they said in the statement. “Internal warring is reserved for other parties. Our party works together to achieve its goals. We will not compromise on a functioning government, while also protecting democracy and the rule of law, and ensuring a state budget to address the economic pandemic. Any other unsubstantiated reports or spins being published are at the reporter’s discretion and sole responsibility.”
Channel 12 reported that Gantz and Nissenkorn clashed overnight concerning concessions Gantz made that would limit Nissenkorn’s powers.
“You care more about your job than about Blue and White,” Nissenkorn told Gantz, according to the report.
KAN reported that Blue and White ministers were angry about former justice minister Haim Ramon, who was convicted in 2007 of indecent conduct after thrusting his tongue into the mouth of a female soldier against her will.
“Gantz lied about not negotiating with Likud,” a minister told KAN. “He used us by sending us to deliver talking points that were not true.”
Representatives from the opposition parties, including Yamina and Yisrael Beytenu, also reacted harshly to the postponement of early elections.
On the official Twitter page of the Yamina party, a rhetorical question was asked with regards to the agreement: "When will Netanyahu and Gantz take care of the work of the citizens of the State of Israel as they take care of their work?" 
Likewise, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman referred to Gantz on his Twitter as a "rag".
Cody Levine contributed to this report.