Government, opposition cancel deal on budget vote

Allocation plan for 2013-2014 being decided overnight Monday, heading off stalling tactics from MKs opposed to two controversial bills

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich speak during a meeting at the Knesset (photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich speak during a meeting at the Knesset (photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to a compromise with leaders of the opposition Monday night on the timing of the budget vote for fiscal years 2013 and 2014.

However, the deal was rejected hours later by the opposition, paving the way for a long night of debate that was set to last until early Tuesday morning.

In order to hold up the voting of two other controversial bills in protest — the referendum law and the governance law — opposition MKs submitted 4,700 reservations to the budget law, each of which demanded a roll call vote.

The opposition agreed to let the budget vote move forward Monday night. Also, a vote on the governance law was postponed in exchange for the passage of the Economic Arrangements Law, which was approved in its final reading by a vote of 56-41. The law includes raising the income tax rate by 1 to 2 percent and reducing child allowance payments.

The Knesset Finance Committee approved last week, in second and third readings, the proposed state budget for 2013 and 2014. The bill was approved with eight supporters and four opponents. According to the bill, the 2013 budget will be NIS 395 billion, and the 2014 budget will grow to NIS 405 billion. The bill is now in front of the Knesset plenum.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) is trying to erase Israel’s NIS 40-billion deficit.

In addition, the opposition will allow the governance law to have its first reading on Wednesday as part of the compromise. In return, opposition members will sit on the committee responsible for preparing the bill for its second and third readings, which will not take place until after the first month of the winter session.

The governance law would limit the cabinet to 19 ministers (including the prime minister), change the law that forces a government to resign if it fails to pass a national budget, and make it more difficult for opposition parties to initiate no-confidence votes that can topple a sitting government.

Initially, the bill also aimed to double the minimum electoral threshold from 2% of the total votes cast in an election to 4%, an increase that would reduce the ability of small parties to win a place in parliament and hold inordinate sway over larger coalition partners. The threshold proposal drew sharp opposition from Arab parties, which argued that it will force them to consolidate into one party to beat the limit.

The other bill drawing the opposition’s ire, the referendum law, requires a public referendum on any future peace deal with the Palestinians that would have Israel give up sovereign territory.

The debate over the budget law turned bitter and personal before the compromise. Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) charged Lapid with hypocrisy. “You criticized Netanyahu,” she thundered from the podium, “you ridiculed him, you committed to doing the opposite from him, the opposite of what the old politicians did. You became his presenter.”

She then referred to photographs of Lapid at last year’s protests she sent to other MKs, and charged him with protesting against the very budget he was now trying to pass.

“What arrogance, what pomposity,” she continued. “Maybe you are living in a dream world. In your dream, Yaakov Peri and you… are the middle class. The poor are a populist invention, and the business sector is five large corporations.”

Lapid responded, “When we are finished debating in fantasy land, I suggest we return to reality.” He argued that he has to deal with the deficit, like it or not, and that the protests he attended were about fairness and burden-sharing, which, he says, he addressed.

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