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Monfort Advisory brief / October 2020
The prevalent wisdom in Israel is that another round of elections, fourth within a little over
a year, is around the corner – likely to be held in March 2021. The basic assumption is that
PM Benjamin Netanyahu will try to do whatever he can to avoid vacating his seat for Benny
Gantz, as stipulated in the Unity Government agreement they both signed. The reason for
this is that Netanyahu is extremely reluctant to begin his trial when he is not acting PM.
Therefore, his only option to avoid giving the reins over the Gantz is to dismantle the unity
government beforehand and lead the country to another round of elections, after which -he hopes – he will succeed in forming a government that allows him to legislate his legal
troubles away.
The only option Netanyahu has to dismantle the government is if it fails to pass a budget by
the end of the year – at which point, the Knesset automatically dissolves and an election is
announced. This is the foundation for the current political dispute between Gantz and
Netanyahu: Gantz is pushing to set a budget for 2021 while Netanyahu is refusing to do so,
calling instead for a budget for the remainder of 2020. That way, when the time comes to
vote on a budget for 2021, Netanyahu can stall, reach and pass the deadline and go t o an
election. If, as Gantz wants, a budget for 2021 is approved, this exit point is no more.
This is the underlying situation at the moment, with Gantz threatening that not passing a
budget for 2021 is a red line for him, but Gantz has little leverage: either he agrees to a 2020
budget and provides Netanyahu with the exit point he desires in March 2021 or he pushes
back by dissolving the government and, of course, an election is announced. Either way, it
seems another round is inevitable. The only possibility to avoid this is if Netanyahu decides
it is not favorable to him to put himself up for a public vote, given the dire health and
economic crisis, his declining support ratings and poor showing in the polls, and the massive
strengthening of Naftali Bennet, on his right. Then again, Netanyahu has little to lose. If an
election is called, it is most likely that no side will win the coveted 61 votes needed to form
a non-unity coalition, probably leaving Netanyahu as the interim or acting PM, without the
threat of Gantz taking over. This is also, all considering, a desirable outcome for Netanyahu,
who rathers begin his trial as acting PM than not a PM at all.