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Coalition said to agree on avoiding incendiary bills until after budget passes

Still, Ra’am party issues list of legislative demands for Arab community as condition for backing budget

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, left, and Ra'am leader MK Mansour Abbas, seated, at the swearing in of the new Israeli government, in the Knesset on June 13, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, left, and Ra'am leader MK Mansour Abbas, seated, at the swearing in of the new Israeli government, in the Knesset on June 13, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

Coalition party chiefs have reportedly agreed to not submit any contentious bills that could tear apart the government until the state budget has passed.

However, according to a Monday report by the the Kan public broadcaster, Ra’am, the only Arab Israeli party in the coalition, has made a series of demands in return for backing the budget.

If the much-delayed budget does not pass by a November 14 deadline, the Knesset will automatically dissolve and a new election — Israel’s fifth in three years — would be called. The budget passed its first reading in September, but must pass its second and third readings in the plenum to become law.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a coalition of left-wing, center and right-wing parties with diverse political ideologies. Together, they comprise a slim majority of 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

Recent talks between Ra’am, which has four seats, and coalition officials included demands for a series of bills that the party wants passed before the budget is brought to the plenum for its final readings.

Among them is a change in construction and planning laws that Ra’am says are discriminatory for targeting illegal construction in the Arab community; legalizing unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev; improving electric infrastructure in Arab communities; and resolving the status of some 2,000 families formed by marriages between Israeli citizens and West Bank Palestinians.

The terms were also laid out in a letter from party leader Mansour Abbas to Bennett.

Ra’am sources told Kan that their demands are included in the coalition agreements that saw them enter the government in June and they are impatient over the lack of progress in passing the promised legislation.

Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra’am party, leads a faction meeting, in the Knesset on October 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The agreement to hold off on any bills that could lead to a dispute relates, among other issues, to legislation that would limit the terms of the prime minister, the Kan report said. Coalition parties have agreed to not advance such bills unless they are sure they have a majority backing in the Knesset, which they currently doubt, according to the report.

On Monday, though, Defense Minister Benny Gantz had said that his centrist Blue and White party would continue to work to advance term-limit legislation.

The idea of term limits has been a recent contentious issue in Israeli politics, with Likud officials arguing that such a move is aimed directly at opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who has served as prime minister for 15 years, 12 of them consecutively.

Another disputed issue is the setting up of a state commission of inquiry into the so-called submarine affair involving the purchase of naval vessels from a German contractor. Though Gantz backs setting up a commission, Bennett has yet to say if he is behind the idea. However, because it has strong support in the coalition, parties on the left intend to keep pushing the matter, Kan reported.

On Sunday, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, leader of the right-wing New Hope party, said he also supports a commission of inquiry.

The issue of a state commission of inquiry into the affair has been a heated one in the government. In June, Gantz announced his intention to establish such a commission without coordinating it with Sa’ar or Bennett. Sa’ar’s office slammed Gantz’s conduct at the time as “unprofessional and unacceptable,” saying the defense chief had issued a statement to the press without any coordination on the matter or prior deliberation.

The submarine affair, also known as Case 3000, revolves around allegations of a massive bribery scheme in Israel’s multi-billion-shekel purchase of naval vessels — submarines and large missile ships — from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp. The scandal also involved the sale of two Dolphin-class submarines and two anti-submarine warships by Germany to Egypt, allegedly approved by former prime minister Netanyahu, without consulting or notifying then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and then-IDF chief of staff Gantz. Israel had long been granted an unofficial veto over such sales by Germany.

Head of the Blue and White party, Defense Benny Gantz leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on October 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Monday urged coalition members to stay united until the budget is passed.

Lapid said that lawmakers must avoid “being pulled in different directions,” and instead focus on the job of “passing a budget for what is important to all citizens of Israel: security, education, health, dealing with COVID-19, dealing with the elderly and improving the situation in the Arab community.”

Netanyahu and the opposition have vowed to bring down the government as soon as possible. The winter session of the Knesset opened on Monday.

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