Bennett: Opposition will ‘weaken considerably’ once budget passed

PM says Netanyahu ‘will use all tools at his disposal’ to divide narrow ruling coalition, as Knesset set to begin holding final votes on budget

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, November 3, 2021. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool Photo via AP)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, November 3, 2021. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool Photo via AP)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday defended the coalition’s state budget bill as the Knesset was set to begin holding the final votes on the proposed budget, which the premier expressed confidence would pass in a boon to the narrow ruling coalition.

At a meeting of his Yamina party, Bennett said an opposition disinformation campaign was attempting to depict the proposed state budget as one that provides money to the Gaza Strip or the enclave’s Hamas rulers.

“I’m stating the obvious here — there is not a penny from the state budget that is going to Gaza or Hamas… It’s a flat-out lie,” he said.

Bennett told members of his right-wing party that opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu was attempting to divide the coalition ahead of the vote on the budget, whose passage the prime minister said would stabilize the coalition.

“He will use all tools at his disposal,” he said.

But, Bennett said, “We don’t need to prove that we’re right wing, we don’t need to prove that we won — we need to pass a budget. That will be winning.”

He also predicted the opposition will “weaken considerably” once the state budget is passed, saying “even now they cannot hide the rifts among them.”

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on October 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The budget is the first that a government has presented for final approval in parliament since 2018, due to a prolonged political deadlock that saw successive governments fall before they could bring a plan to the Knesset.

Failure to pass the proposed budget by a November 14 deadline would bring down the government and trigger fresh elections, which would be Israel’s fifth in three years. The coalition — which holds a slim Knesset majority — is aiming to get the law through by Friday, November 5.

The diverse composition of the government led by Bennett — made up of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties plus an Islamist faction — is complicating the effort to pass a budget, with the opposition of a single lawmaker theoretically able to bring down the wafer-thin coalition.

“I see the passage of the budget as a personal victory for me against those who tried to prevent it from Israeli citizens,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Wednesday at a meeting of his Blue and White party.

Gantz was referring to the short-lived ruling coalition he formed last year with Netanyahu, which dissolved over its failure to pass a state budget, triggering the elections this March that resulted in the current government. Under their power-sharing agreement, the only scenario under which Netanyahu did not have to hand over the premiership to Gantz in the case of new elections was if no budget was passed.

“Those who tried to act against the country’s interests are now sitting in the opposition and those who want to promote Israel’s interests are in the coalition,” Gantz said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on October 19, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Knesset proceedings on the budget began Tuesday with speeches by lawmakers, each of whom was granted 30 minutes to address parliament.

Bennett is scheduled to open remarks from the government on Wednesday evening. He will be followed by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, opposition leader Netanyahu, and Knesset Finance Committee chair Alex Kushnir.

The actual vote on the budget will be divided into three: first a vote on the budget for 2021, then a vote on the Arrangements Bill, which contains the details of how the financial plan will be put into practice, and after that the budget for 2022.

The final votes on the budget are expected to be held early Friday morning. The prolonged voting process is due to hundreds of preliminary votes on specific objections lawmakers can raise on the budget and the Arrangements Bill.

The last time an Israeli government managed to pass a budget was in March 2018. Failure to approve the budget was what brought down the previous government late last year.

The budget bill for 2021 passed its first reading in September by a 59-54 vote, with the 2022 budget passing 59-53.

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