Budget delay seen as ploy by Netanyahu to thwart bill disqualifying him as PM

Senior right-wing politician ‘70% sure’ that premier will only back postponement in initial vote, then he’ll torpedo it and trigger elections anyway

Shalom Yerushalmi

Shalom Yerushalmi is the political analyst for Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew current affairs website

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, (l) speaks with then-cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser at a weekly cabinet meeting in July 2009. (Ariel Jerozolimski/Flash90/File)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, (l) speaks with then-cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser at a weekly cabinet meeting in July 2009. (Ariel Jerozolimski/Flash90/File)

Rarely has a compromise proposal been met with so much skepticism.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is willing to back the Derech Eretz party’s bill to postpone the late August deadline for approving the state budget by several months — thus averting the immediate threat of elections — but ministers in his Likud party and right-wing sources are warning that this is another trick by the premier, who intends to calm the political system, and then torpedo the bill at the last minute.

A senior right-wing politician says the chance of that happening stands at 70 percent.

That is how dishonest our political system has become.

The current deadline for passing the state budget is August 25, or else elections will be called automatically. Netanyahu is insisting on passing a budget for 2020 only, in violation of the coalition agreement, citing the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus crisis. Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White is demanding a two-year budget. No side has shown willingness to compromise, and many believe the real issue at stake is whether Gantz will take over as prime minister late next year.

For the postponement bill by MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel to enter the law book, it needs to be backed by a majority in a preliminary reading, then pass Knesset committee discussions, three readings, and a long discussion in the Knesset before the final approval.

All that has to be done in two weeks, with the Knesset’s limited schedule. Not impossible, if Netanyahu doesn’t torpedo it all at the last minute.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz lead a weekly cabinet meeting, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 7, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem)

At this stage, Netanyahu and Likud support the law that will go up for a Knesset plenum vote on Wednesday, but only at the preliminary reading stage.

On the same day, opposition MKs Yair Lapid and Tamar Zandberg will put up for a vote their bill disqualifying anyone under criminal indictment from serving as prime minister.

That law is designed to prevent Netanyahu from serving as premier, since he is on trial for corruption in a trio of cases, including bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing.

Netanyahu is seen as seeking to prevent Blue and White from supporting that law, and that is why he agreed to delay the approval of the budget. After the opposition bill falls, he will find a way to undermine Hauser’s budget bill.

I asked Hauser on Sunday whether he was falling into a trap set by Netanyahu.

“Everything is possible,” he answered.

So all in all, Netanyahu has not changed his interests. He wants to shake up the political system before the evidence phase in his trial begins in January 2021. He still wants elections and a new right-wing government backed by a razor-thin 61-lawmaker majority, to pass the laws he is seeking to thwart the continuation of his trial.

That has been his plan of action for the last two years.

In short, Netanyahu has not blinked, as some prominent analysts have said. The dissolution of the Knesset has not been canceled. At most, it has been pushed off by 100 days, if Hauser’s law indeed passes — and that is not at all guaranteed.

Knesset members Yoaz Hendel (L) and Zvi Hauser (R) seen at the Knesset, ahead of the opening session of the new parliament on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The bill’s author, Hauser, said Sunday night that his goal was to create political and economic stability ahead of the winter. He likened the emerging health crisis to a meteor in the form of a combined coronavirus and flu outbreak nearing earth, about to crash, while warning that Israel is not ready.

He himself will vote against Lapid and Zandberg’s bill, to avoid diverting attention from the main issue, political stability, he said.

“Anything that doesn’t stabilize the system shouldn’t be dealt with,” Hauser said, forgetting that, in the meantime, Israel will be going three more months without a state budget.

That’s some glorious instability right there.

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