Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday said the government must pass a one-year budget in order to assist the ailing economy, as a television report said Defense Minister Benny Gantz was likely to drop his demand for a two-year budget.
Gantz has pushed for a two-year budget as agreed upon in the coalition deal between his Blue and White party and Netanyahu’s Likud, but Channel 13 reported he was prepared to forgo the demand amid pressure from the prime minister.
“All economists in the world and in the country say to bring an immediate budget by the end of the year,” Netanyahu said during a press conference announcing a new aid package for Israelis ailing from the government-mandated virus restrictions.
“I turn to Gantz,” the premier continued. “We need to bring a budget now. If politics is put aside, the budget would be passed by next week. Politics should not be involved here.”
Finance Minister Israel Katz, appearing alongside Netanyahu Thursday, also said that a short-term budget was what the ailing economy needed.
“From an economic standpoint, we need an immediate budget. It is impossible to know what will be and therefore it is impossible to prepare a budget for next year,” Katz said. “All economists are saying we need to make a budget for this year now so that we can start the economy. It’s perfectly clear from an economic point of view why a budget is needed right now.”
Gantz has so far stood his ground on the need for a two-year budget, despite Netanyahu’s reported threats that Israel will go to fresh elections if the government fails to pass the one-year budget he wants.
But according to the Channel 13 report, the Blue and White leader is now willing to accept the demand, having understood that Netanyahu is not bluffing and could force new elections over it.
Under the coalition deal between Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White, the parties agreed to pass a two-year budget. Netanyahu, however, is now seeking a one-year budget amid the coronavirus pandemic, potentially allowing him to trigger new elections over next year’s budget and bypass a power-sharing deal with Gantz. The Blue and White chief has insisted his refusal to go with a one-year budget has nothing to do with that scenario.
The push for a one-year budget, however, has led to the suggestion by some that Netanyahu is looking for a way to end his partnership with Blue and White, prompting another national election that polls have suggested could benefit him.
The coalition deal agreed on by the parties stipulates that if the Knesset is dissolved and elections are called between November 2020 and November 2021 — after a six-month “emergency period” ends but before Gantz becomes prime minister as part of the power-sharing deal — Gantz would automatically become the transitional prime minister instead of Netanyahu.
The clause is meant to serve as a deterrent against Likud ending the partnership before Gantz gets a chance to be premier.
However, if the government were to fall because it failed to pass a budget, no such transition of power would take place. Passing a one-year budget until the end of 2020 would give Netanyahu a possible way to force new elections without having to give up the position of prime minister. A two-year budget would prevent that option until 2022.
There has been widespread anger from various sectors of the economy that say the government is not doing enough to help them weather the crisis, accompanied by outrage over the alleged misdirection of financial aid and the bureaucratic complexities of obtaining assistance.