Knesset passes 2021 and ’22 budgets, foiling Netanyahu comeback with early elections

Quick passage of budgets draws praise for coalition while raising questions about Netanyahu’s political comeback.

By David Hellerman, World Israel News

A marathon Knesset session ended with lawmakers approving the 2021 and 2022 state budgets. Their passage provided a boost to the governing coalition’s stability, raised questions about Benjamin Netanyahu’s political comeback and averted early elections.

The 2021 budget had a November 14 deadline and was more urgent. Failure to pass a budget on time would have resulted in the Knesset’s automatic dispersal and new Israeli elections. That NIS 609 billion ($194 billion) budget passed by a vote of 61-59.

Passage of the 2022 budget provided the coalition with longer-term stability. Failure to pass the 2022 budget by March would have triggered new elections. Hebrew media reports said lawmakers spent 35 hours on the spending plan and casting 800 votes on its various points. It passed by a vote for 59-56.

The 2022 is the more controversial budget.

The NIS 573 billion ($183 billion) budget includes a number of reforms — some of which are contentious — for Israeli banking, agriculture and kashrut, along with larger allocations for the Arab sector. It also seeks to lower the cost of living, ease regulations for small and medium-sized businesses, address educational gaps caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, revamp public transportation and encourage clean energy.

The governing coalition of eight disparate parties maintained its discipline, while opposition parties did not. The Arab Joint List broke with Likud on a number of amendments.

“Last night we put Israel back on track. Finally, a budget,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wrote on Twitter.

Israel has not passed a state budget since 2018. Critics blame Benjamin Netanyahu for that impasse. Netanyahu’s failure to introduce a budget earlier this year provided him with a loophole to break an agreement with the Blue and White party that would have seen Benny Gantz rotate into the Prime Minister post in October, 2021.

The governing coalition could be toppled by a no-confidence motion at any time. But blocking passage of the budget was seen as Netanyahu’s fastest path to return to power. Polls indicate that if elections were held today, Likud would be the Knesset’s largest party, but the bloc of right-wing parties would fall short of a Knesset majority.

The budget’s passage may keep Netanyahu and the Likud in the opposition at least until 2023, when Yair Lapid is scheduled to rotate into the position of prime minister.

Netanyahu is currently on trial for charges of fraud, accepting bribes and breach of trust.