Alternate PM: We have 5 weeks with 1 goal - pass the budget

Lapid pleads for coalition to stay united, as Netanyahu vows to topple it

Liberman warns that if the ultra-Orthodox parties join the government, his Yisrael Beytenu party will quit

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on October 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on October 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told a meeting of his Yesh Atid faction on Monday that the members of the government coalition must stay unified ahead of the deadline to pass the state budget.

Speaking on the first day of the Knesset’s winter session, Lapid said that coalition lawmakers must focus on the bigger picture.

“We have five weeks, during which we all have one goal and one goal only: to pass a budget,” said Lapid. “Without that, there will be no government. Without that, nobody will accomplish their dreams. Instead we’ll go back to the chaos and the poison that was here just a few months ago.”

If the much-delayed budget does not pass by the November 14 deadline, the Knesset will automatically dissolve and a new election — Israel’s fifth in three years — would be called. The budget passed its first reading in September, but must pass its second and third readings in the plenum to become law.

Lapid said on Monday that lawmakers must avoid “being pulled in different directions,” and instead focus on the job of “passing a budget for what is important to all citizens of Israel: security, education, health, dealing with COVID-19, dealing with the elderly and improving the situation in the Arab community.”

The Yesh Atid leader warned coalition MKs and ministers not to feel too complacent ahead of the budget vote. “It’s natural, but it’s too early,” he added. “We haven’t reached our goal yet.” He called on them to “avoid fights on Twitter, it’s not worth it.” If the coalition falls apart, Lapid said, “the people of Israel won’t forgive you, and the voters won’t forgive you.”

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a plenary session of the opening day of the winter session at the Knesset, on October 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Meanwhile, in remarks to his Likud faction meeting, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to bring down the government as soon as possible.

“We were already in the opposition once with 12 seats, and we returned with full power,” Netanyahu told the Likud’s 30 lawmakers. “That’s what will happen this time, because of [the government’s] failures, their neglect.”

Netanyahu said his party must operate with “determination and unity” to bring down the coalition. He added that “the citizens of Israel can see how terrible this government is.”

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman told his Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting that he would quit the government if the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism were brought into the coalition.

“If that happens, we won’t be there,” Liberman told his fellow lawmakers. He added that such a move would “be the de facto return of Netanyahu to power… We will not sit in a government with Netanyahu, or with [Shas leader Aryeh] Deri, or with [UTJ leaders Moshe] Gafni and [Yaakov] Litzman.”

Yisrael Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on October 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Monday that his party would continue to work to advance legislation limiting the term of Israel’s prime minister.

“One of the central topics Blue and White intends to advance — and I believe all the coalition will stand behind — is the limiting of the term of prime minister to two terms or eight years,” Gantz told his party’s lawmakers. “This is not personal. It is a functional issue, and an issue of a healthy and functioning government and an issue of preventing corruption.”

The idea of term limits has recently been a contentious issue in Israeli politics, with Likud officials arguing that such a move is targeted directly at Netanyahu, who has already served as prime minister for 15 years, including 12 consecutive years.

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