Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Benny Gantz said on Tuesday that his party would vote for an opposition proposal to dissolve parliament, a move that could force a fourth election in two years.
Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party is currently the key partner in an uncertain coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right wing.
The coalition, which was formed only after three bitterly fought elections between Netanyahu and Gantz, failed to produce a clear winner, was plagued from the outset by fighting and prosecution.
Gantz, a former army chief who served as defense minister, said Netanyahu’s refusal to support a budget proposal made it clear that the premiere wanted to bring Israel back to the polls.
In a televised speech, he said that blue and white “will vote tomorrow to dissolve the Knesset (Israeli parliament).”
However, Wednesday’s vote on an opposition-backed measure is preliminary.
If it passes, several successful Knesset readings will still be required before a new election must be called.
Just before Gantz spoke, Netanyahu released a video on Twitter urging Gantz to vote against the measure.
“It is not time for the election,” Netanyahu said. “Now it’s time for unity.”
“Vote on the budget”
The Netanyahu-Gantz unity government, agreed in April, aimed in part at giving Israel desperately needed stability after the worst political crisis in its history and when the coronavirus pandemic took off.
Netanyahu would serve as prime minister during the first half of the three-year deal, with Gantz taking over in November 2021.
The deal contained several provisions that would have automatically triggered the collapse of the coalition, including the failure to implement a budget.
Netanyahu’s critics accuse him of refusing to send a two-year budget as a tactic to ensure he is not forced to hand over the prime minister’s job to Gantz.
In a direct appeal to Netanyahu on Tuesday, Gantz called for the premiere to “get the government to vote on a budget.”
If there is a budget, “Israeli citizens will not go to the polls in March,” he said.
Some political commentators have said Gantz has decided to support the preliminary step of dissolving parliament to put Netanyahu in a corner and secure a public commitment from him on the budget.
Gantz also courtesy enormous political risks by taking Israel back to the polls.
His blue-and-white coalition broke when he decided to reach an agreement with Netanyahu and Gantz’s personal popularity has fallen according to a series of recent polls.
His former ally critic, opposition leader Yair Lapid from the Yesh Atid party, is sponsoring the dissolution proposal.
“Six months after the formation of this bloated and disconnected government, it is clear to everyone that Netanyahu cannot lead Israel out of the corona crisis (virus),” Lapid said in a statement congratulating Gantz on breaking with the coalition.