Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid hailed Israel’s new state budget for the next two years in a Saturday press conference, ending “three years of instability.”
Bennett also promised that he would “rotate” the prime ministership to Lapid in 2023 as agreed.
The Knesset passed Israel’s 2022 budget early Friday morning, clearing the complex legislation’s last hurdle after the 2021 budget was approved early Thursday, and capping a major success for Bennett’s unlikely ruling alliance of eight ideologically-disparate parties.
Failure to pass the 2021 budget before November 14 would have resulted in the dissolution of the government and snap elections, the fifth in two years.
By passing the budget “we have completed the complex process of getting Israel out of three years of instability,” Bennett said. “The government is stable. It will last out its term.”
He said the coalition had “passed a budget that will ensure political and financial stability… The fact that we are not in the midst of the fifth round of elections is a blessing and a great gift to the State of Israel.”
“Tomorrow morning… we begin,” he said.
A power-sharing deal will see Lapid take over as head of the government in September 2023, serving out the remainder of the government’s 4.5-year term, unless the government collapses before then.
Bennett was recently reported by the media to have expressed doubt the rotation of the premiership would happen. Asked on the matter Saturday, he vowed to fulfill his obligation and transfer the premier role to Lapid when the time comes.
“We will implement the rotation and the government will complete its days,” he said.
Lapid, standing alongside him, concurred: “I’m convinced.”
The coalition gave final approval to the NIS 573 billion ($183 billion) state budget for 2022, far ahead of its March 2022 deadline, as the legislation passed its third reading shortly after 3 a.m. on Friday. The 2022 budget passed with a vote of 59 in favor and 56 against in the 120-seat Knesset.
The 2021 budget voted through on Thursday was far more urgent for the coalition, since a failure to pass it by its November 14 deadline would have meant the automatic dissolution of parliament. The 61-59 vote saw lawmakers vote along coalition-opposition lines just after 5 a.m. Thursday, following an all-night session.
The NIS 609 billion ($194 billion) spending plan for 2021 was the first budget Israel has passed since 2018, due to a prolonged political deadlock that saw successive governments fall before they could bring a budget proposal to the Knesset.
The coalition’s success was also seen as a rebuke of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had been unable, and at times unwilling, to pass a new budget since 2018 amid a series of political deadlocks, and who had predicted that the coalition would be unable to effectively run the country given the competing ideologies at play.
The new legislation includes a wide range of reforms to lower the cost of living, ease regulations, reform the agricultural sector, raise the retirement age for women, implement banking changes, increase the education budget and improve health care, among other measures.
Separately during Saturday’s press conference, Lapid said Israel had updated United States officials in May ahead of its move to outlaw six Palestinian human rights groups over their alleged connection to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terror group. He added that European officials were also notified, and were given updates throughout the process.
Last week, Shin Bet officials traveled to Washington to brief US officials on the terrorism designation. Israel has yet to take further action against the six groups.
The foreign minister also commented on the US Department of Commerce’s decision to blacklist two Israeli phone spyware companies, NSO Group and Candiru.
“NSO is a private company, it is not a governmental project, and therefore even if it is designated [as engaging in malicious cyber activities] it has nothing to do with the policies of the Israeli government,” Lapid said.