Israel's feuding government leaders on Monday avoided plunging the country into its fourth election in less than two years, postponing a deadline for passage of a national budget in the parliament.
The Knesset ratified the postponement in a vote two hours before the original deadline had been due to expire at midnight. Failure to approve a budget in parliament by Aug. 25 would have automatically triggered an election by law.
The passing of the budget was shrouded in doubt until the last minute, with hours before the crucial vote Israel's two biggest parties appeared to be at a stalemate yet again, with a last-minute disagreement over public sector appointments, especially high-profile positions such as attorney general and state attorney.
With less than half an hour before the vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he has instructed Likud ministers to back the bill delaying the budget by three months.
Netanyahu's remarks were made just minutes before Defense Minister and Alternate Minister Benny Gantz made a similar statement.
"Social tensions in the country could deteriorate and, God forbid, if we get to another elections, more blood will be shed in the streets here," said Gantz during a televised address. "Whoever threatens elections, does not threaten me but the Israeli public. Therefore, I will not let anyone threaten the citizens of Israel."
The defense minister added he will not allow "puppets" to be appointed for the positions of state attorney, attorney general and police commissioner, all of whom could greatly influence the outcome of Netanyahu's criminal trial.
The prime minister is on trial for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust and Blue & White has accused Netanyahu of trying to break up the government over the appointments.
Likud and Blue & White earlier on Monday morning agreed to pass a bill tabled by Derekh Eretz MK Zvi Hauser, which proposes postponing the passing of the budget by 120 days, avoiding the automatic dissolvement of the government.
With hours before the crucial vote, however, Likud officials went on the offensive, accusing Blue & White of deviating from its promise that no appointments for top position in the public sector would be made until December 23, when the 120-day budget delay expires.
"Blue & White are running away from Hauser's compromise, which they themselves agreed to," said a senior Likud member on Monday. "Thus, they are dragging the country into another election by piling on more complications in the last minute."
The official added that Blue & White also demanded to pass a biennial budget even though the Hauser bill does not specify the length of the budget.
"Netanyahu has only a few hours left to fulfill the promise he made to the nation on Sunday night, in which he vowed to prevent another election in Israel," said the Blue & White in a statement. "He has a few hours left to show whether he will keep his promise to the public to head a unity government, which will effectively deal with the coronavirus and security, or choose to upset the apple cart in favor of his personal and legal considerations."
In his press conference on Sunday, Netanyahu said he had decided to support the compromise bill "out of a sense of national responsibility," calling for unity among coalition members and cooperation in the service of the nation.
Reuters contributed to this report
First published: 20:48, 08.24.20