Gantz ups pressure on Netanyahu as coalition teeters on brink of collapse

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Blue and White head instructs party to advance contentious laws without backing of Likud in move that could bring down government; PM: ‘We’ll vote against elections, and for unity’

Amid growing speculation Israelis will soon find themselves at the ballot box for the fourth time in under two years, Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered his Blue and White party on Monday to prepare proposals for a number of contentious laws that do not have coalition backing, in a move that could bring down the government.

The Blue and White announcement came two days before a planned Knesset vote of no confidence in the government. It said Gantz had instructed the party to put forward three legislative proposals: “The Basic Law: Equality,” which Gantz said “aimed to enshrine the right to equality and the prohibition of discrimination”; “the surrogacy law,” which would “evenly expand the circle of those entitled to surrogacy, expand the circle of women who can serve as surrogates and regulate the possibility of surrogacy outside Israel”; and “The Basic Law: The Declaration of Independence,” which would require judges to “interpret all Israeli legislation, including other Basic Laws, in light of the Declaration of Independence as a constitutional document.”

Following the announcement, the Likud party said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would give a “special statement” on the possibility of early elections, which TV stations covered live, anticipating political drama. Speaking briefly at the start of his Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu instead merely said that his party would not support efforts to disband the Knesset immediately, and would vote this week “against new elections, and for the unity of the people of Israel.”

Blue and White responded by saying in a statement that “the public is done with buying Netanyahu’s lies. If there were no trial, there would be a budget.” That was a reference to Netanyahu’s corruption trial and the continued delay in approving a new state budget.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party, a staunch ally of Netanyahu’s Likud, slammed Blue and White for putting forward the law bills and said the party and Gantz “have decided to dissolve the government and go to elections” in a move that “signals a severe political distress.”

Shas leader Aryeh Deri earlier this year offered a personal guarantee on primetime TV that Netanyahu would honor the coalition deal and that Gantz would become prime minister. Earlier this month, he appeared to disavow that guarantee.

Bringing the Blue and White proposals to the Knesset without specific agreement from Likud violates a clause in the coalition agreements signed between the two parties, but seems to be an effort to call Netanyahu’s bluff.

On Thursday Netanyahu said, “When agreements are not respected on the part of Blue and White, there is no doubt that we are on the way to elections.

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