Knesset speaker: ‘The budget will pass — we have 61 votes, maybe 62’

Mickey Levy won’t say whether the government believes it has secured votes from the opposition Joint List party

Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy during a plenary session in Jerusalem, July 26, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy during a plenary session in Jerusalem, July 26, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy said Saturday that he believes the coalition has enough votes to pass the budget by November 4, a key deadline that needs to be met to prevent another round of elections.

“The budget will pass — we have 61 votes, maybe 62,” he told Channel 12, implying that a potential extra vote could come from rebel Yamina MK Amichai Chikli.

When asked whether votes were coming from the opposition Joint List party, Levy was not forthcoming.

“I don’t know, I am not involved in the negotiations,” the speaker said. “The budget will pass and it’s a good budget.”

Earlier this month Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said he believed the budget will pass because even most of the opposition does not want a fresh round of elections. The Joint List, in response, said it “can’t be bought.”

Levy, a member of Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, said Saturday that a number of compromises had been reached on the Arrangements Law, a piece of legislation accompanying the budget that lays out the government’s policies, which that will potentially introduce a slew of profound changes to the Israeli economy and society.

“We have reduced about 30 percent of the Arrangements Law,” Levy said, without specifying whether they were particularly significant parts of the legislation.

“There are very important issues, issues that the government cares about deeply, and they should be included in the Arrangements Law. I would like to see more issues included [in the bill], but not everything is possible,” Levy said.

Cabinet approves the state budget, August 2, 2021 (GPO/Amos Ben Gershom)

Earlier this month the cabinet approved the budget, Israel’s first in three years, but the complex legislation must now pass through committee stages and three readings in the Knesset plenum by a November 4 deadline. It is a key challenge for the coalition, which holds a narrow parliamentary majority.

If it does not pass by then, the Knesset would automatically dissolve and elections would follow.

The budget will require all the votes of the wafer-thin coalition to pass, with the opposition of a single lawmaker able to bring it down. The diverse composition of the government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett — made up of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties — complicates the effort.

Opposition chief Likud MK Benjamin Netanyahu has said he would “leave no stone unturned” in his bid to block the budget from passing in the Knesset.

Levy said Saturday that he and his wife had recently hosted the Likud chief and his wife, Sara, for dinner and that he believes “Netanyahu and I can maybe take further steps together after the budget [has passed].”

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on August 2 2021. (by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The two-year state budget allocates $187 billion for 2021 and $173 billion for 2022, and includes sweeping reforms of the kashrut establishment and the agriculture industry, steep taxes on disposable plasticware and sugary drinks, and considerable changes to import policies.

Other major reforms include the gradual raising of the retirement age for women to 65 over the course of 11 years, at a rate of four months a year for three years, and three months a year for a further eight years.

In the previous government, then-prime minister Netanyahu refused to pass a budget — which allowed him to call elections without then-coalition partner Defense Minister Benny Gantz immediately becoming transitional prime minister under the terms of their rotation deal.

Israel’s last approved state budget was for 2019, before the country became embroiled in two years of political gridlock. That budget was passed in March 2018.

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