President Rivlin with President Trump

New elections in Israel are “not an option” while Israel “counts its dead” during the coronavirus pandemic.

President Reuven Rivlin flexed his political power on Tuesday as the deadly virus grips the country amidst political infighting in the unity government.

And his message clearly resonated as the Knesset approved the preliminary reading of a bill to postpone a deadline for parliament to pass a state budget or be dissolved yesterday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Benny Gantz now have until December 3 to negotiate an agreement on a budget.

Derekh Eretz MK Zvi Hauser and Communication Minister Yoaz Handel presented the bill.

Hauser reportedly said, “Just 88 days ago we all stood here and pledged to put our differences behind us. We made a pledge to the citizens of Israel to stand together against the pandemic, a challenge Israel has never faced before. It seems that only now, in August, we begin to understand the real scope of this challenge.”

Netanyahu and Gantz have been at an impasse over the budget which threatened fourth elections in just over 12 months that would be disastrous for the economy.

Both leaders backed moving the August 25 budget deadline but problems persist in party factions.

Political shenanigans in Israel are not unusual but tensions have escalated in recent days.

“I won’t restate the warnings which you know well, I will just say this, as a citizen of this country, an (election) is not an option,” Rivlin reportedly said after a meeting with Communications Minister Yoaz Handel. “It cannot be that we continue to deal with this as if it were a logical option, while we are counting our dead.

“If you take us there, you, the elected officials of whatever party, if you take us to that dreadful nadir, you will inflict on this country a hard, painful and unforgivable blow. Beware of it.”

Netanyahu backs a short-term budget until the end of 2020, Gantz favours a biannual budget as agreed in the coalition agreement going back just four months.

Without a budget resolution, Netanyahu can remain Prime Minister through to an election campaign in November or March 2021.

Earlier this week, Blue & White made its position clear on the prospect of new elections.

“In the throes of one of the most severe crises in the nation’s history, we are choosing to do everything to prevent elections, which would be harmful to the economy and which would tear the fabric of Israeli society to bits,” they reportedly noted in a statement which called for the government to pass a biennial state budget as agreed in the coalition deal.

“Now is the time to approve a long-term budget, which will give the public some economic certainty, which is simply critical,”

They added, “History will judge anyone who behaves otherwise as having acted to their own benefit, in opposition to the needs of the Israeli public.”

Some analysts have reportedly cited Netanyahu’s corruption trial as central to the deadlock.

The matter escalated when Likud cancelled a weekly government meeting on Sunday.

In a statement, Likud blame Blue & White for its refusal to put a NIS 8.5 billion coronavirus aid program on the agenda.

Blue & White contest the claim. “This is not the first time the Likud has failed to fulfil its commitment’s” they reportedly noted.

“This is a multi-billion, long-term aid plan that has not presented in full and has not been finalised,” Blue & White added, “The attempt to table it overnight is nothing more than an irresponsible political spin. We expect the Likud to abide by the coalition agreement and approve the government’s bylaws.”

“Israeli citizens expect stability and credibility from the government, and Blue & White will not agree to undemine this. Blue and White informed the Likud that any vote related to coronavirus bills will not be delayed and will go through via a telephone vote.”

According to Likud, the rescue package would benefit population sectors worst most by the pandemic.

“The package will create about 10,000 new jobs, NIS 700m will be transferred to fund food for underprivileged families and NIS 600 million are meant for the extension of the unemployment payments to those aged 67 and over and people put on unpaid leave,” Likud reportedly wrote.