Israel passes first new budget in three years

This morning, a Jubilant Naftali Bennett tweeted celebratory comments calling today a holiday for Israel.

By Gil Tanenbaum/TPS

After a marathon session, lasting through the night, Israel’s Knesset was finally able to pass a new state budget, albeit by the slimmest of margins, for the first time in more than three years. At 5:30 A.M. local time a new budget was passed by a vote of 61 – 59.

More votes will come today and in the near future on other spending bills. But the biggest hurdle for the government has been crossed and most observers in the country are saying that those votes are expected to easily pass.

The new budget comes to NIS 609 billion ($195 billion). Its passage came just ten days ahead of the deadline, set by law, for a new budget to be approved.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government had a lot riding on the outcome of this vote. Under Israeli law, if a government cannot pass a budget then it falls and new elections must be called. This is what brought down Benjamin Netanyahu’s last government after less than one year.

Wednesday night, during the debates on the budget, the Prime Minister described the budget battle as one between people who want a stable State of Israel, and those who want continued chaos. This was clearly a slam on opposition leader Netanyahu who has been trying to block the new government in any way possible.

“We are facing – mainly the right section of this government – a deranged campaign of de-legitimization,” said Bennett, “and fake news against us. Of all the claims in the world, to go with ‘funding Hamas’? Netanyahu, the man who invented the suitcases of money for Hamas.” He was referring to Netanyahu’s accusations that the government was funding Hamas.

This morning, a Jubilant Bennett tweeted celebratory comments calling today a holiday for Israel. “After years of chaos,” he wrote, “We have formed a government, We overcame the delta, And now, God willing, we have transferred a budget to Israel! Continue forward with all your might.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who served in the same post in the last Netanyahu government, as well as the co=prime minister at the time, when it fell due to the failure to pass a new budget, was equally ecstatic. He tweeted, “We have passed the 2021 budget, today we will complete the task and pass the 2022 budget. For the citizens of Israel, for you. Good morning Israel!”

Israel’s last government failed to pass a budget because its two co-leaders, Gantz and Netanyahu, could not agree to terms on one. Some political pundits in Israel have maintained ever since that Mr. Netanyahu deliberately scuttled his own coalition’s budget plans so that he could “dump” Gantz and call for new elections without having to let Gantz become the premiere.

In office for just five months now, the Bennett coalition is a tenuous one and this was seen by the entire nation of Israel as its first true test. Now, the coalition can breathe a bit easier now that it has bought time, at least well into next year, before it must be concerned with its own survival once again.

Opposition leader Netanyahu tried throughout the night to win over the one vote needed to block its passage. He held meetings with coalition MKs but failed to win any over.

The country had not passed a new budget in such a long time because of all of the elections that it was forced to hold. The first of four held in a two year period came in April of 2019, but when no government was formed a new election was held the following September. Another failed attempt to form a government led to a third election in early 2020.

Under Israeli law, as of the holding of the first elections in 2019, the previous government under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued to govern as a “caretaker” government. However, as there had been no new government formed by a majority of the members of the Knesset since the first round of elections were held, there could be no new budget passed for the country. So the old budget remained in place, year after year.

However, as there had been no new government formed by a majority of the members of the Knesset since the first round of elections were held, there could be no new budget passed for the country. Finally, a new coalition government was formed after a third round of elections was held in March 2021. However, this government lasted for only one year and fell after it failed to pass a new budget for the year 2021. So, again no new budget.

The new budget is seen as a huge victory for the government and Naftali Bennett personally. But Foreign Minister and co-Prime Minister Yair Lapid may, in fact, be the biggest winner here. Under the current coalition agreement, which was also made into law, Lapid will become prime minister after two years. He will also automatically take over the job should the government fall and new elections be held. He would then continue to serve in that capacity through the elections and at least until a new government is formed.

The one exception would have been if this budget did not pass. But now Lapid is guaranteed to be the prime minister at some point, even if it is only for a brief period of time.

Today’s biggest loser may be Benjamin Netanyahu. The opposition leader has already failed to keep all of the opposition parties in line with his plan to boycott Knesset committees. Now he failed to win over just one vote from any coalition partner to block the new budget from passing.

Recently, former Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein announced plans to challenge him for the Likud Party leadership. The coming days will see if Mr. Netanyahu’s days are numbered as leader of the opposition. Many political pundits in Israel are today saying that the right could have formed a government if it were not for the personal opposition to Netanyahu the man. Some say that they see a way for the right to topple the coalition and form a new government without the need for new elections, but only with Benjamin Netanyahu as their leader.