Israel set for snap election as budget deadline nears

Israel set for snap election as budget deadline nears

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. Credit: Reuters Photo

Israel on Tuesday was on the brink of a fourth national election in two years after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main governing partner, Benny Gantz, failed to resolve a dispute over the budget.

Failure to pass a fiscal package by midnight (2200 GMT) in parliament automatically triggers an election, in March, under Israeli law.

Parliament voted late on Monday against extending the deadline. With no legislative debate on the budget held on Tuesday, Netanyahu went on television to forecast his victory in a coming vote.

"If an election is forced upon us, I promise you that we will win," Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing Likud party, said in a televised speech, blaming Gantz's centrist Blue and White party for the coalition crisis.

But an opinion poll broadcast by Israel's Kan public television minutes before Netanyahu spoke showed a new right-wing challenger, Gideon Saar, neck-and-neck with the country's longest-serving leader. Saar broke away from Likud several weeks ago.

Israel's cabinet is due to consider on Wednesday a new national lockdown amid rising Covid-19 infections. Public anger has mounted against Netanyahu over his handling of the health crisis and criminal corruption charges that he faces in court.

Netanyahu, who has denied any criminal wrongdoing, and Gantz, named as Israel's defence minister, established a unity government in May after three inconclusive elections held since April 2019.

Likud and Blue and White's coalition deal involved Gantz taking over from Netanyahu as prime minister in November 2021, and passing a bi-annual budget for 2020 and 2021, a de-facto insurance for the power-sharing deal.

But even as that accord was being inked, many analysts argued that Netanyahu would not relinquish his powerful post, and Likud has since demanded to pass the budgets separately, while Blue and White accused him of trying to get out of the "rotation" deal.