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As budget deadline nears, Bennett urges coalition members not to ‘rock the boat’

PM calls on ministers to focus on what unites them, not divisive issues; implores cabinet ministers to hold back even when there is a ‘burning urge to respond’

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (third from right) and other ministers attend a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on October 17, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (third from right) and other ministers attend a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on October 17, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett implored cabinet members Sunday to avoid tension within the fragile coalition in order to pass the state budget before an approaching deadline next month.

The government has until November 14 to finalize the budget and have it approved in its second and third readings, or the coalition will automatically dissolve, triggering new elections. In practice, the Knesset vote will likely have to take place by November 10, since the parliament’s plenum is usually active only from Monday to Wednesday.

Bennett leads a very diverse eight-party coalition composed of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties plus one Arab Islamist party, with a range of political outlooks and ideologies. Compounding the delicacy of its position, the coalition has the slimmest possible majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

“There is no point in starting to rock the boat,” Bennett told ministers at their weekly meeting, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office. “Even when someone has a really burning urge to respond, certain that they are right – let us keep the bigger goal in mind.”

“The people have had it with petty disputes and quarrels,” he said. “They expect something different from us, the members of the government and the members of the coalition.”

“We must now focus on passing the budget,” he said. “This is the main task for the coming weeks. To focus all efforts, to maintain coalition stability, so that we can advance the common goals for which we have come together. Let us focus, especially in the coming weeks, on what we have in common and not on disagreements.”

Reminding ministers that it has been over three years since the country last approved a budget, Bennett said the financial plan he aims to pass “finally puts the country back on track and brings much good news to the citizens of the State of Israel.”

Bennett has in recent weeks repeatedly called on his coalition partners to keep the peace until the budget is passed.

This combination of photos shows Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas, right, and Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

However, there are reportedly undercurrents of discontent between members, and in particular from Ra’am, an Arab party that controls four Knesset seats. In June, the Islamist party became the first Arab party to join a coalition in decades after being promised that billions of shekels will be directed to improve Arab society.

Last week, Ra’am leader MK Mansour Abbas met with Bennett to complain about Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton — of the right-wing Yamina and New Hope parties, respectively — both of whom he said are holding up some of the promised funding, Channel 12 news reported on Friday.

The meeting reportedly ended positively.

Ra’am, whose MKs have already broken coalition ranks on previous Knesset votes, has in the past threatened to take similar action if the terms of its coalition agreement are not met.

Also during his remarks, Bennett noted that the number of COVID-19 infections has dropped, enabling him to say with “caution” that a fourth wave of the coronavirus is being defeated due to “a very successful policy” of vaccinating citizens with a booster shot.

Bennett also said that Israel is keeping an eye on developments in Lebanon, where sectarian violence last week left several people dead, and also the situation in Iraq which recently held elections, with pro-Iran forces suffering a defeat.

“In both cases, we see developments and trends that begin from the bottom, forces that are sick and tired of Iranian control, be it Hezbollah in Lebanon or Shiite militias in the case of Iraq, that suffered a severe blow in last week’s elections,” he said.

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