After key deadline passes, Israel on verge of 4th elections in 2 years

Benny Gantz, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu in the Israeli parliament, Nov. 10, 2019. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Gabe Friedman

(JTA) — Barring an unexpected last-minute deal, Israel’s government will likely dissolve this week after a bill to delay a crucial budget deadline was scrapped late Monday night.

The lack of a deal, or a delayed deadline, means the country appears to be headed toward its fourth election in two years. The new election would likely take place on March 23, 2021.

The deadline was for the parliament, the Knesset, to approve a new budget for the country. If a budget is not finalized by midnight Tuesday night, elections are automatically triggered. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, have not been able to agree on the terms of the 2020 budget.

Gantz initially supported a bill to delay the deadline to Dec. 31, but members of his Blue and White coalition threatened to reject it, so he backtracked and instead gave Netanyahu an ultimatum of demands, including passing not only the 2020 but also the 2021 budget.

“I gave Netanyahu my final offer and he’s supposed to get back to me,” Gantz told colleagues, The Times of Israel reported. “I think he’ll say no and the Knesset will be dissolved tomorrow.”

Gantz and Netanyahu formed a governing parliament coalition earlier this year to end months of political stalemate brought on by consecutive close national votes. As part of their agreement, Netanyahu agreed to hand Gantz the prime ministership after an 18-month period.

But Netanyahu has been taking advantage of loopholes in the agreement, including some that involve passing the budgets, to keep that provision from moving forward, and Gantz now appears unlikely to command the same support he did during the last election. Instead, a different official, Gidon Sa’ar, is forming a new party with the goal of unseating Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, who has managed to hold on to power despite being in the middle of a corruption trial.