Israel’s Knesset on Wednesday passed in its preliminary reading a bill seeking to delay the Aug. 25 deadline for passing a state budget and thus prevent the immediate toppling of the government. The vote was 56 to 41 in favor, with one abstention.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads the Likud Party, is involved in an ongoing budget dispute with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White Party, that is threatening to bring down the government. Gantz is demanding that the Likud should abide by its coalition deal with Blue and White, that stipulates the passing of a biennial budget. Citing the coronavirus crisis, Netanyahu is pushing for a budget that covers only the remainder of 2020.

Under the terms of the coalition agreement between Likud and Blue and White, Netanyahu and Gantz are to alternate as prime minister, with Gantz taking over as premier in November. Blue and White is said to be concerned that Netanyahu is insisting on a one-year budget as a pretext to bring down the government in early 2021 to avoid having to relinquish the premiership to Gantz.

Under Israeli law, the usual deadline for the passing of a state budget is March 31. However, Israel has remained without a 2020 budget due to a political stalemate which resulted in three Knesset elections within 12 months, most recently on March 2. After the current government, dubbed the “coronavirus government,” was inaugurated on May 17, the parliament passed legislation setting Aug. 25 as the new deadline.

The current bill to extend the deadline further was sponsored by MK Zvi Hauser of the Derech Eretz faction, which is aligned with Blue and White, once it became obvious that the Aug. 25 deadline would not be met.

Addressing the Knesset on Wednesday, Hauser called on his fellow parliamentarians to “come to our senses” to prevent yet another election.

After the preliminary vote in the Knesset plenum, the bill now goes to committee where its details are to be hammered out before additional steps are taken.

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