Israeli lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a bill targeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that sought to block candidates under indictment from forming a future government.
In a vote that highlighted the fragility of the premier’s coalition, Wednesday’s bill, proposed by opposition leader Yair Lapid, was defeated 53-37. Members of the Blue and White party, who are part of the coalition, abstained.
Charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust agaisnt Netanyahu
Talk of a snap election is already widespread, just three months after the current government was formed.
Netanyahu is on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies wrongdoing.
Israeli law does not force a prime minister to step down after being indicted.
Lapid argues that the only reason no such law exists is because it was previously inconceivable that a prime minister facing criminal charges would insist on remaining in office.
The opposition asked Blue and White, led by defence minister and alternate premier Benny Gantz, to support its proposal.
— Dick Mackintosh🌹🎗#FreeJulianAssange (@DickMackintosh) August 13, 2020
Gantz, who challenged Netanyahu in three straight elections before joining him in a unity government, campaigned aggressively against Netanyahu’s alleged corruption.
“Our fundamental position on the subject hasn’t changed and won’t change,” Blue and White said in a statement on the propriety of an indicted premier in office.
But it described Lapid’s decision to introduce the measure as “simply and purely an attempt to destabilise the entire political system”.
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Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party had said that Blue and White’s support for the bill would sink the coalition.
“If Blue and White votes for this law, there will be elections,” Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar said this week.
Ahead of the vote, the prospect of a fourth Israeli election in less than two years was met with widespread condemnation.
Looks like Israel's government lives to fight another day – Blue & White say will note against Lapid's anti-Netanyah bill, while legislation delaying budget deadline to December, progresses.https://t.co/WAgztMCS7i
— Arsen Ostrovsky (@Ostrov_A) August 11, 2020
“In the throes of one of the most severe crises in the nation’s history (caused by the coronavirus pandemic) we are choosing to do everything to prevent elections,” Blue and White said.
Gantz’s refusal to back the opposition bill has neutralised one threat to the coalition’s survival, but an unresolved budget impasse could still force another election.
Gantz has demanded that the government agree a two year budget to provide stability, as outlined in his coalition agreement with Netanyahu.
The prime minister says he prefers a one year budget, given the difficulty of long-term planning during an unprecedented pandemic.
A deadline of August 25 had been set to agree a budget or dissolve the government, but a proposal to extend that deadline by 100 days passed a preliminary reading in parliament on Wednesday.
It must pass three more readings before becoming law.
Protests mounting against Netanyahu
Protests demanding that Netanyahu resign over several corruption indictments and his handling of the novel coronavirus crisis have been mounting in recent weeks and the premier has been scathing in his counter-attack.
Last week, he accused Channel 12 and another private station, Channel 13, of “delivering propaganda for the anarchist left-wing demonstrations” by giving extensive coverage of the rallies.
On Sunday, a Jerusalem court slapped an order on his son Yair, restraining him from harassing individual protest leaders, after he tweeted their private addresses.
Israel won praise for its initial response to the COVID-19 outbreak, but the government has come under criticism amid a resurgence in cases after restrictions were lifted starting in late April. Netanyahu has himself acknowledged that the economy was re-opened too quickly.
The country of some nine million people has so far recorded over 82,000 confirmed cases, including nearly 600 deaths.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk