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Coalition leaders cheer approval of state budget after ‘years of chaos’

With early elections averted, Bennett fetes ‘day of celebration’ ahead of more marathon votes on 2022 budget; Likud’s Katz: It’s a ‘bad budget’ with ‘unnecessary tax hikes’

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (C) and other government ministers attend the final votes on the state budget, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, November 3, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (C) and other government ministers attend the final votes on the state budget, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, November 3, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Coalition leaders celebrated Thursday morning after the task of passing the 2021 state budget was completed 10 days ahead of the deadline, averting the threat of early elections.

The government still faces marathon discussions to pass the 2022 budget, starting Thursday morning and continuing until the evening at the earliest. That budget doesn’t pose an immediate threat of early elections, but still must be passed by the end of March 2022.

The Knesset passed Israel’s first budget in over three years early Thursday morning, as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition overcame its internal differences and opposition objections.

Lawmakers voted 61-59, along coalition-opposition lines, to approve the 2021 state budget in its final readings just after 5 a.m., following an all-night session that they will be expected to repeat over the coming 24 hours to pass more budget items as part of the major package.

The NIS 609 billion ($194 billion) spending plan for 2021 is the first budget Israel has passed since 2018, due to a prolonged political deadlock that saw successive governments fall before they could bring a proposal to the Knesset.

Passing the budget was seen as a key test for Bennett’s eight-party coalition, both to prove that the ideologically disparate alliance can come together on major issues and because failure to do so by the November 14 deadline would have triggered new elections automatically.

Bennett tweeted that the budget’s passing was a “day of celebration for the State of Israel.”

“After years of chaos — we have created a government, overcame the [coronavirus] Delta variant and now, thank God, we passed a budget for Israel! Continuing forward at full strength,” he wrote.

Naftali Bennett blows a kiss at an opposition MK during a plenum session and a vote on the state budget in the Knesset on November 3, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman also celebrated on Twitter: “The 2021 budget passed, 2022 budget here we come!

“The last time a budget passed in Israel, France won the soccer World Cup, Spotify reached Israel, Netta Barzilai won the Eurovision, the coronavirus wasn’t born yet and Harry and Meghan had just married,” Liberman added. “2018 was a long time ago. It is time to get the country back on track and pass a socially minded and responsible budget for the future.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who has moved closer to entering the prime minister’s seat in August 2023 as per his power-sharing deal with Bennett, said: “After a long night, we passed the 2021 budget in the Knesset. Another long day ahead of us. Another budget for next year. We have come to make a change.”

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar called the budget’s passage “an important step in rescuing Israel from its worst-ever political crisis toward political and economic stability.”

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, the Labor party leader, said: “Now that we have a budget, we will be able to invest in government projects, public transportation and many more important things for your benefit.”

There weren’t many comments from the opposition, which was gearing up to put up another fight against the 2022 budget.

“This is a very bad budget,” Likud MK Israel Katz, the former finance minister, told the Ynet news site. “A budget of unnecessary tax hikes for no reason.” He alleged that the extra funds were going to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has ties to the Ra’am coalition party.

“They will pass a budget as there are 61 lawmakers who are afraid of the Knesset’s dissolution because the vast majority of them have no political future, at least those of them who came from the right,” Katz added.

Likud MK Israel Katz speaks during a conference in Ramat Negev, July 22, 2021. (Flash90)

“I believe this government will fall sometime, and we will do everything so that it will fall apart as soon as possible,” Likud MK Gadi Yevarkan told Radio 103FM. He estimated that the coalition will remain unstable even after the budget’s approval.

MKs were set to reconvene Thursday morning to pass the Economic Arrangement Bill that details how the financial plan will be put into practice, followed by a vote on a NIS 573 billion ($183 billion) budget for 2022.

The overall budget plan includes nearly $10 billion in funding over five years to improve socioeconomic conditions for Israel’s Arab minority, which the Arab Ra’am party had demanded as one of the conditions for their support. It also hikes some taxes that the ultra-Orthodox argue will affect them the most.

Despite having only a single seat edge over the opposition, the coalition managed to win all of the several hundred votes held late Wednesday and early Thursday.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset ahead of the vote on the state budget, November 3, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Bennett had earlier predicted the coalition would have a 780-0 record, referring to the number of votes it was expected to take to pass the whole package.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu is widely believed to have torpedoed the most recent budget under his power-sharing government with Benny Gantz, in order to bring down that coalition and avoid passing the premiership on to him as had been agreed between the two as part of their deal.

That fight led directly to the collapse of the last government and the most recent election, the results of which saw Netanyahu ousted from office in June.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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