Photo Credit: Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset, November 10, 2020.

Economy Minister Amir Peretz and Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Itzik Shmuli, both from Labor, announced on Tuesday morning that they will vote in favor of the bill to dissolve the Knesset, which will be submitted to the plenum this Wednesday.

After a nightly consultation, the two wrote that “it is not possible to continue to have a government in which the most permanent thing is uncertainty. Instead of continuous paralysis and exchange of accusations, it is better to dissolve the Knesset and go to the polls now.”

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Opposition leader Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid-Telem) called on Blue&White to unite with him to topple the government and declared: “In Blue&White they know I’m right, all the decisions of the current government are based on external considerations.” Or, in other words, Lapid argues – and many in Israel agree – that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering any political step according to whether it would help him in his criminal trial.

Earlier, Defense Minister and Blue&White Chairman Benny Gantz instructed his faction’s chairman MK Eitan Ginzburg to advance this week, without coordination with the Likud, three key laws: an amendment to enshrine in the country’s Basic Laws (which are as close to a constitution as you’ll find in Israel’s legal system) the right to equality and the prohibition of discrimination; a law to expand the definition of those entitled to have children via surrogacy; and the Basic Law of the Declaration of Independence.

This is an open-faced attempt by the party to gain populist credentials ahead of the disbanding of the coalition and the new elections. In that context, it doesn’t matter if they win – they don’t stand a chance – it’s all about being on the record as having tried. They might as well have submitted a bill to give every Israeli a million dollars in cash. Heck, make it two million.

The proposed bills pose a challenge to the Haredi parties, which have shown countless times in the past that they are ready to resign from coalition governments to stop legislation that calls for equality in the burden of recruiting to the Army. The Haredim are also not in love with legislation that would expand the rights of LGBT people.

In Blue&White they agree that the end of the government is approaching, but the faction is in the middle of a tactical debate about the best time to dissolve the Knesset. There are members of the faction who are pushing Gantz to vote in favor of the dispersal bill on Wednesday, but some party ministers want to wait to complete moves in their offices before going to the polls. This is because no one, including those ministers, expects them to be back, with all the polls predicting Blue&White dropping to single digits in the coming election.

Gantz fears that a vote in favor of dispersal would be a public relations disaster and would serve Netanyahu in promoting a narrative according to which “They disperse and I vaccinate” (works better in Hebrew), meaning that Blue&White dispersed the Knesset while the prime minister was working on obtaining vaccines for the coronavirus.

On the other hand, some Blue&White seniors argue that if the faction does not vote in favor of dispersal come Wednesday, it would be perceived as grotesque and its leaders as being kept a leash by Netanyahu. Let’s face it, no one in Israel, but no one, expects Benny Gantz to reach his coveted post as the rotation prime minister. Netanyahu didn’t mean to give it to him when they signed the coalition agreement, and for a while, there Gantz was the only Israeli who still believed the PM would keep his word. Now even Gantz has lost hope. At this point, Gantz tends to support the dispersal, but the man has set Hamlet-level world records for hesitation, it is not known how he would ultimately vote.

Earlier this week, the Labor Party conference approved the accreditation of party chairman Minister Peretz to negotiate a possible unification with the Blue&White party and other elements in the political system. About 70% of the conference members supported the proposal, 30% voted against it. MK Meirav Michaeli, who sits on the opposition benches despite her party having two ministers in the government, has declared a revolt of the remnants of the Labor Party against Peretz, who in effect has led to the erasure from the political map of the party of David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin. Perhaps she stands a chance.

Communications Minister Yoaz Handel of Derech Eretz, which splintered off Blue&White to start Netanyahu’s current coalition government, said in an interview on Reshet Bet radio that if the vote for early election comes up, his faction, which also has two ministers in the coalition government, will vote in favor.

“I see only one path – going to the polls. This government is just not functioning well enough,” explained Handel, who, like Naftali Bennett, began his career as a senior adviser to Netanyahu, until he was thrown out to the curb.

As to the reason his faction signed a coalition agreement that allows the prime minister to refuse to pass a budget for half a year, Handel added: “This was a glitch that no one recognized at the time of signing. There was a loophole in the agreement regarding the budget and whoever wanted to take advantage of it.”

By “whoever” he meant Netanyahu, the old fox that keeps outfoxing all his enemies. On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the beginning of the Likud Knesset faction meeting that the opposition would try on Wednesday to “drag us to the elections and the Likud will vote against the elections and for unity.”

Netanyahu added that “the citizens of Israel need a government that works for unity.”

In Blue&White they said in response: “The public is done buying Netanyahu’s lies. If Netanyahu was not facing a trial – we would have had a budget.”

The latter is a reference to the rotation agreement between Bibi and Gantz, which stipulates the myriad ways the government might fall and which of the alternate prime ministers gets to keep the throne until the ensuing elections. Should Netanyahu declare the dispersal of his government – Gantz becomes the caretaker PM. But if the government collapses because it hit the legal deadline for submitting a budget and it hadn’t done so – Bibi is the caretaker. And Bibi is also the caretaker in case his government is toppled by a Knesset vote, as will most likely be the case Wednesday.

Your arms too short to box with Bibi Netanyahu.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.