Ashkenazi to Likud: End government logjam or face elections

Blue & White #2 warns that if no headway made on state budget, professional appointments or regular cabinet meetings by end of month, party will work to dissolve Knesset; 'If this does not change, it is all over,' he says

Moran Azulay, Alexandra Lukash|
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi threatened Monday that if the government does not end the ongoing impasse over certain key issues - including the state budget - by the end of the month, his Blue & White party will bring down the coalition government, thereby triggering elections.
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  • The Blue & White #2 said that there still are no agreements on the state budget or professional appointments and there is no regular schedule for cabinet meetings.
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    גבי אשכנזי
    גבי אשכנזי
    Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi
    (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
    "This government is bogged down in infighting and quarreling," the foreign minister told Ynet.
    Blue & White "joined this government to save the public from a crisis. It is just not working," he said. "If this does not change - it's over."
    He added: "A budget could be passed at any moment, it is merely a matter of will. Without an emergency economic plan, this will not happen."
    Israel's economy has been hit hard from the COVID-19 outbreak and is expected to contract in 2020 for the first time in nearly two decades. It still using a pro-rated version of the 2019 budget, although lawmakers have approved more than NIS 100 billion ($30 billion) in state aid to help businesses and households hurt by the virus.
    Finance Minister Israel Katz of Likud hit back at Ashkenazi, accusing Blue & White of "extorting" the government, and saying that even if elections did take place, his party would prevail.
    Katz said that he did not wish for a fourth round of elections in less than two years, as "it is not good for the country."
    "We need to straighten up and approve a budget for 2020 immediately," he said.
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    הביטוח לאומי סניף פתח תקווה
    הביטוח לאומי סניף פתח תקווה
    Israelis queuing for state benefits during the pandemic in the central city of Petah Tikva
    (Photo: Yariv Katz)
    In recent days, the warring coalition partners have revived their row over the most pressing issue facing the government - the urgent need to approve the state budget for 2020 and 2021.
    While Blue & White insists on approving both state budgets at once, given the tight deadline and the fact that 2020 is close to ending, Likud is demanding two separate votes – one for each year.
    Katz promised last week that the long-awaited 2021 state budget would be ready in December amid accusations the government was dragging its heels for political reasons.
    Political analysts believe that Likud is refusing to unite the votes in order to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party two opportunities – in December, when the 2020 budget has to be passed and again in March, when the 2021 budget must be passed - to dissolve the Knesset and trigger fresh elections, which occurs when the government cannot get its state budget approved.
    Under the terms of the coalition agreement signed by the two parties in April, any move to call fresh elections in any other way would lead to Blue & White leader Benny Gantz taking over as prime minister until the nationwide vote was held.
    A single Knesset vote to approve both annual budgets, which would also ensure the stability of the political system, has been rejected by the Likud.
    Ashkenazi said Monday that politically motivated decisions made on handling the coronavirus pandemic have eroded the public's trust.
    He also accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of not doing his part in the coalition partnership.
    "There is no legislation, no ministerial committee, no economic plan. If we want this to succeed, Netanyahu must make a 180-degree turn. There no point in things continuing as they are," he said.
    The foreign minister pointed to the fact that a state budget, which Israel has not passed since 2019, takes between 40-50 days to push through, citing the budgets for 2013/14 and 2017/18.
    "We can pass this through by the end of the month, and even ignore any specific partisan modifications to it to deal with them later," he said.
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    מליאת הכנסת
    מליאת הכנסת
    Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset
    (Photo: Knesset Channel)
    "You just have to want to do it, nobody thinks that this economic crisis should go on without a state budget to help against it. Treasury officials, the head of the Bank of Israel and financial experts all agree with this. This is just a political issue," Ashkenazi said.
    "Somebody [a reference to Netanyahu] is trying to keep all of his options open and not fulfill his agreements and this cannot be allowed to continue. This is irresponsible, the public must be given answers."
    Asked about Netanyahu's accusation that Blue & White was acting as "a government within a government," Ashkenazi said that any logjam stems from the prime minister's lack of willingness to make decisions.
    "We [Blue & White] are not preventing the budget, the legislation or the official appointments," Ashkenazi said.
    "Does it make sense to anyone that ministries would not have directors-general, there is no chief of police or state prosecutor? We want all of these things to happen. None of this is going through because Netanyahu prevents it. The public has had enough of this infighting. They deserve answers," he said.
    Ashkenazi also said that it was "insulting" that Netanyahu hid the contents of the normalization agreements with the UAE and Bahrain from him and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
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    The head of the Israeli delegation, National Security adviser Meir Ben Shabbat (L), and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, sign the Israel-Bahrain accord formalizing diplomatic relations, in the Bahraini capital Manama, on October 18, 2020. US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (C) looks on
    The head of the Israeli delegation, National Security adviser Meir Ben Shabbat (L), and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, sign the Israel-Bahrain accord formalizing diplomatic relations, in the Bahraini capital Manama, on October 18, 2020. US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (C) looks on
    Israel's National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat and Bahraini FM Abdullatif bin Rashid Alzayani sign an accord to formalize relations, in the Bahraini capital Manama, Oct. 18, 2020
    (Photo: AFP)
    "It is insulting not only to the foreign and defense ministries, but for the whole country, that they were not updated on the agreements because we 'could have leaked them to the Iranians," Ashkenazi said.
    Likud said in response that "it is saddening that Blue & White are threatening elections during the coronavirus pandemic."
    "It is continuing to attack the government from within as Prime Minister Netanyahu is successfully bringing down the national contagion rate and saving lives," the statement said.
    "It is time for Blue & White to work with the government and for the people of Israel."

    Reuters contributed to this report
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