Joint List said ready to consider helping government pass budget

Predominantly Arab party reportedly recognizes coalition is better than alternatives; willing to offer assistance to a Bennett-Lapid government desperate for extra votes

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid meets (center) with Joint List leaders Ayman Odeh (left) and Ahmad Tibi in the Knesset on April 19, 2021. (Courtesy)
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid meets (center) with Joint List leaders Ayman Odeh (left) and Ahmad Tibi in the Knesset on April 19, 2021. (Courtesy)

Officials in the Joint List opposition party have reportedly told Foreign Minister Yair Lapid that they don’t want to see the government brought down and would consider voting in favor of its new budget proposal.

“We do not want to bring down this government just so [former prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu can return to power with a 65-MK [right-wing] government, so there’s a conversation to be had regarding the budget,” was the message passed to Lapid in recent days, according to a Thursday report by the Kan public broadcaster.

As far as the Joint List is concerned, a right-wing Netanyahu government would be much worse than the current coalition, which is led by hardline Prime Minister Naftali Bennett but also includes centrist and left-wing parties.

The Joint List is also looking to gain influence after the Islamist Ra’am faction split away from their alliance of majority-Arab parties ahead of the latest election and then joined the Bennett-Lapid government. Ra’am argues that it is now the only Arab party capable of advancing reforms to benefit the long-neglected Arab public and that the Joint List’s refusal to cooperate with successive coalitions has rendered it irrelevant.

Lapid met with Joint List leaders in recent days and asked for their help in passing a budget if the government realizes at the last minute that it lacks a majority, Kan reported.

But the 6-MK Joint List faction has a list of demands in exchange for its votes, which it will present to coalition officials next week, the public broadcaster said.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) speaks with MK Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamist Ra’am party, in the Knesset plenum on June 21, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The events of recent days in the Knesset have highlighted the 61-MK coalition’s need for additional votes. A bill that would have reformed the system for appointing rabbinical court judges failed to pass in its third and final parliamentary vote Thursday morning because the Knesset speaker accidentally voted against it.

The “no” vote by Yesh Atid’s Mickey Levy gave the Knesset a 51-51 tie. Parliamentary procedure holds that a tie is tantamount to a defeat, killing the bill until it can be reintroduced again at a future Knesset session. Coalition sources said they would try again to get it approved next week.

The coalition’s loss came a week after the opposition — with the help of rebel Yamina MK Amichai Chikli — voted down legislation to extend the government-backed Palestinian family reunification. That vote also ended in a 59-59 tie, with two Ra’am lawmakers abstaining.

Hebrew media first reported on talks between the Joint List and senior coalition members last Friday.

Channel 12 reported that Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid and Blue and White head Benny Gantz were in contact with the Joint List on various points for potential cooperation.

Passing a state budget is key to securing the new government, with politicians expecting its longevity to hinge on the matter. But with many disparate voices within the coalition, infighting and gridlock on the matter are distinct possibilities.

Last week, Knesset members voted to extend the deadline for the government to pass a budget, giving it three months from the beginning of the budget year or 145 days from the date of the formation of the government, whichever is later.

In the case of the new coalition, which was sworn in on June 13, it will have to wait until November 4 to pass the 2021 budget.

Israel last approved a state budget for 2019, before it became embroiled in a two-year political gridlock. In the previous government, then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to pass a budget — which allowed him to call elections without coalition partner Defense Minister Benny Gantz immediately becoming transitional prime minister under the terms of their rotation deal.

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