Netanyahu, Gantz aides negotiate as Knesset barrels toward election

Gideon Sa’ar registers new party under the name “New Hope” on Thursday.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled Sunday’s cabinet meeting, eliminating one of the last possible opportunities to avoid an election being called next week.
Yet Hod Betzer, a top aide to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and Yaakov Atrakchi, an attorney close to Netanyahu, attempted to negotiate a compromise to stave off the election.
If the Knesset does not pass the 2020 budget by 12:00 a.m. on Wednesday, December 23, the legislature will automatically be dispersed, launching a new election. At this point, that is the most likely scenario.
Netanyahu seeks to have the rotation for the premiership be postponed from November 2021 to March or May of 2022, while Gantz seeks to be able to have Avi Nissenkorn remain justice minister and make senior appointments that Netanyahu sought to block or influence, such as state attorney, attorney-general and others, Channel 12 reported.
In addition, Blue and White sources expressed concern that Netanyahu would still be able to break any new agreement they would make in a few months, when a 2021 budget would have to be passed, and said the party would not reach any new agreement without addressing the matter.
Likud officials have reached out to Blue and White MKs in an effort to convince them to break off from the party and to Yamina leader MK Naftali Bennett to try and form an alternative coalition without Gantz, Hebrew media outlets reported.
A Panels Politics poll taken for The Jerusalem Post and its sister publication Maariv showed both Likud and New Hope, a new party led by former Likud MKs Gideon Sa’ar and Yifat Shasha-Biton, rising and Yamina losing seats compared with last week’s poll.
Likud received 29 seats this week, up from last week’s 27, and New Hope was the second-largest party with 19 seats, compared with 16 last week.
Yamina dropped from 16 to 13 seats. Yesh Atid-Telem remained steady at 13 seats.
The Joint List went from 12 to 11 seats and Shas from nine to eight, while UTJ rose from seven to eight. Yisrael Beytenu dropped a seat to seven, while Blue and White remained at seven and Meretz at five.
The poll was taken on Thursday among 541 respondents, making up a representative sample of Israeli adults. The margin of error was 4.3%.
Finance Minister Israel Katz made a last-minute effort to prevent the impending election, asking Netanyahu to allow the 2020 state budget to go to a cabinet vote on Sunday.
Netanyahu did not publicly respond to Katz’s suggestion, and his office later announced that Sunday’s cabinet meeting was canceled. The reason the Prime Minister’s Office gave is that there will be a coronavirus cabinet meeting that day.
Katz’s proposal would give lawmakers fewer than three days to complete a process that normally takes months.
At the same time, the 2020 budget, which Katz submitted to the cabinet on December 7, would be much more limited than any budget passed before and would only apply for seven days. The truncated budget came as a result of a political compromise made in August, the original date on which the budget was supposed to pass, 90 days after the government was formed.
Katz also asked Gantz to support his proposal and continue discussions on a budget for 2021, for which the final date would be March 31 after a postponement allowed by law.
Gantz stopped talks about the 2021 budget because he supports going to early elections, even though the Finance Ministry has the economic arrangements bill, which is passed in tandem with the budget, and market reforms already prepared for next year, Katz said.
“Your avoiding supporting the budget and dragging Israel to an unnecessary election because of political arguments is irresponsible on a national level and is a direct attack on the economy for the citizens of the State of Israel,” he said, addressing his remarks at Gantz.
Katz said Israel was on the verge of a third coronavirus lockdown and in the middle of an operation to distribute vaccines.
“Israel… needs a stable and strong government that works for the citizens of Israel, while getting us out of the health, economic and social crisis, and we all must rise above and prevent an expensive, damaging and unnecessary election,” he said.
Sa’ar registered his party under the name New Hope on Thursday.
Building settlements deep within the West Bank is part of the priorities New Hope set for its agenda.
“Developing the land, encouraging a spread of population and strengthening the social and geographic periphery; encouraging settlement and agriculture in the Galilee and Negev, in Samaria and Judea and the eastern corridor from the Golan Heights, along the length of the Jordan River and the Arava toward Eilat” is one of six points the party released.
Other goals of the party are to “realize the natural and historic rights of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel” and strengthen Israel’s identity as “the state of the Jewish people whose government is democratic.”
New Hope also plans to emphasize a free economy and reforming all parts of government, including law enforcement, the judiciary and the electoral system.
In addition, one of the party’s priorities is education, with the goal of creating one of the top school systems in the world. Sa’ar is a former education minister and his No. 2, MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, has a PhD in education.
Sa’ar said his party would be “a broad national and social movement that we will build from its foundations for the long term.”
“We are embarking on a path of unity and hope that Israel needs so very much,” he said. “Together, we will bring a better future to Israel.”
The full party name in Hebrew translates to “New Hope – Unity for Israel,” though a spokesperson for Sa’ar said it would just be New Hope in English.
Asked if the party took into consideration that “A New Hope” is the title of the first film in the Star Wars series, a spokesperson said someone on staff mentioned it, but it was not seriously discussed.