Kahlon: After budget passes, I will work to expand coalition
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Kahlon: After budget passes, I will work to expand coalition

Finance minister says party will be 'pioneers' for unity government; Netanyahu confident two-year budget will be approved

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) speaks with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon during a plenum session at the Knesset on November 16, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) speaks with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon during a plenum session at the Knesset on November 16, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) said on Monday that his party would work to expand the coalition starting next week, once the two-year budget passes in the Knesset.

“Beginning next week, we will work to broaden the government,” Kahlon announced. “The time has come for other partners to enter the coalition and lend a hand to boosting the economy. Sitting on the sidelines is okay… but we must join forces.”

“The people of Israel right now want to see their leaders united,” he added. “We will be the pioneers in advancing a unity government.”

Kahlon said last month that he would be willing to vacate the Finance Ministry for the Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was optimistic on Monday the two-year budget would be approved by the Thursday deadline, as marathon debates kicked off in the Knesset.

“Yesterday, the budget was approved by the Finance Committee despite some reservations, and this week we will pass it in the Knesset,” the prime minister said, adding that it would require 24 hours of coalition discipline to approve it.

The Knesset debates on the budget began on Monday afternoon, and will continue through the week. The government must approve the 2015-2016 budget — which consist of four separate bills that must be approved in their second and third readings — by Thursday, or it will be forced to call fresh elections.

Herzog criticized the impending budget, saying it was overly generous to the settlements. He also accused the settler leadership of controlling the government.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu is not the acting prime minister and Kahlon is not the finance minister,” he said. “Smotrich is the prime minister,” Herzog added, referring to the Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich, “and Hazan is the finance minister,” he said of Likud MK Oren Hazan.

This is another “empty budget,” he said. “Instead of going to the Negev and the Galilee, to improving the housing crisis, to the daycare centers, [the budget is going to] isolated settlements and obscure organizations of which it is unclear who heads them.”

On Sunday, the Knesset Joint Committee on the Defense Budget approved a 2016 defense budget of NIS 56.1 billion ($14.4 billion), in a compromise agreement reached between officials from the defense and finance ministries.

The defense budget passed by a vote of 8-4 in the committee, and will be added to the broader state budget bill that the Knesset will be considering throughout the week. The defense budget includes the army and Defense Ministry, but excludes other security services such as the Shin Bet and Mossad. Netanyahu praised the defense budget, saying that in all his years as prime minister and finance minister, this was the first time that such an agreement had been reached. He called it “a proper budget not only for 2016, but also for what will be presented soon, a multi-year plan for the IDF.”

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