Why budget when you can fudge it: What the press is saying on August 10
Israel media review

Why budget when you can fudge it: What the press is saying on August 10

The coalition is saved, kind of, though few believe ‘trickster’ Netanyahu will actually budge on the budget, while some question the wisdom of pushing Israel into financial ruin

A dog walks by a sign depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Benny Gantz, left, that reads: 'A government with 36 ministers? Where is the shame?' during a protest against the government and the corruption, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, May 2,2020. (AP/Ariel Schalit)
A dog walks by a sign depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Benny Gantz, left, that reads: 'A government with 36 ministers? Where is the shame?' during a protest against the government and the corruption, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, May 2,2020. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

1. The best offense is a good delay: Of all the unlikely scenarios to keep the coalition from falling apart that have been put forward by the pundits, the idea of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu folding to his rival/partner Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party barely registered a blip. Which just goes to show that, for all the column inches and radio minutes logged by the pundits, at the end of the day, they are pretty much just guessing like everyone else.

  • Yet here we are, with the coalition stable-ish, for now, at least, after Netanyahu agreed to support a bill that would push off the budget deadline, essentially saving the government by moving the goalposts, despite rampant speculation that he has been salivating over the thought of going back to the ballot box.
  • Few, though, believe that the government is actually stable or that the move does much more than kick the can down the road.
  • “We are far from solving the problem,” Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin tells Army Radio. “This is not what we intended when we set up the government. We can’t work like this,” he adds, referring to the Blue and White party.
  • Kan speaks to ministers from each faction who show that the budget issue — Likud wants a one year budget, Blue and White wants a two-year, as agreed to already — is far from put to bed.
  • “So long as the other side is doing these maneuvers and trying to escape the agreement every way possible, I can’t be trusting and sure that Gantz will be prime minister in the end,” says Blue and White Science Minister Izhar Shay.
  • Meanwhile, Finance Minister Israel Katz tells the station that “Blue and White see the two-year budget as a political tool to get to March 2021 and the rotation. I don’t hear the prime minister looking for an escape hatch, if the government is around, the agreement will be honored.”
  • Haaretz writes that “a Likud source said the party would vote in favor on Wednesday, but for now would not commit to backing the bill the following three votes it must pass before becoming law.”
  • “Only if Netanyahu backs the bill on its second and third reading as well will there be the possibility of pushing off elections. Until then, the crisis is far from solved.”
  • Only Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom seems to take Likud at its word, running a front page headline: “The sides are on their way to a compromise,” though even it seems skeptical, asking in its lead, “Is the crisis over?”
  • In the paper’s telling, though, Netanyahu didn’t so much acquiesce as act graciously toward his subjects by telling the petitioning Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel that he would agree to their idea to push off the budget deadline.
  • “The prime minister kept his word to spare no effort to avoid elections at this time,” it quotes an unnamed Likud official saying.

2. Shtick it to them: Pundits also have little faith that Netanyahu will actually keep his word and allow the coalition to stabilize, seeing him as too much of a trickster/3D chessmaster.

  • “Until the next crisis,” reads a headline on the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth, accompanying a caricature of a raft with the coalition leaders headed toward a “trying to avoid elections” waterfall, as Netanyahu holds the only oar.
  • “Can we say Netanyahu blinked first? It seems to me early to say that. If we go by past experience, Netanyahu blinked with one eye, while the other eye is focused on some point in the future,” she writes, imagining some other more important legislative effort that nobody has even registered yet, for which Netanyahu will need Blue and White’s support.
  • In Zman Yisrael, ToI’s sister site, Shalom Yerushalmi writes that Netanyahu caved simply to keep Blue and White from backing a bill that would have made it illegal for a prime minister under indictment to serve, but he has little faith that the budget delay bill will even pass, seeing Netanyahu as the worst kind of scam artist.
  • “Ministers in his Likud party and right-wing sources are warning that this is another trick by the premier, who intends to calm the political system, and then torpedo the bill at the last minute,” he writes. “After the opposition bill falls, he will find a way to undermine Hauser’s budget [delay] bill.”
  • “Gantz is right to insist on a two-year budget. Even he has realized that if it isn’t the budget, Netanyahu will find some other issue that he can use to break the rules and violate the agreement,” reads the lead editorial in Haaretz. “Netanyahu has already dragged Israel to the polls three times over the course of a year and won’t hesitate to drag it to them once again – even though the country is at the height of unprecedented health and economic crises, even though he promised the public ‘no tricks and no shticks,’ even though he signed an agreement, shook hands with Gantz, and made a commitment to the president.”

3. Crock the vote: ToI editor David Horovitz, writing before Netanyahu climbed down, calls the whole rigmarole “pathetic” on the part of both sides, and says voters should reconsider voting for either of them should they condemn the country to new elections.

  • “The members of the largest, costliest, and to date most ineffectual government in Israeli history should be ashamed of themselves. Except, of course, that they are quite evidently shameless,” he writes. “Should our MKs sentence us to yet another election — an act of sheer contempt in the midst of a pandemic, with over a fifth of the workforce unemployed — it will fall to us to utilize our democratic choice with clarity, self-respect and the experience gained from the political chaos and cynicism of recent months. If they insist upon giving us yet another choice regarding who should lead us, we should take them up on the offer, and rethink.”
  • In a column in Israel Hayom, political scientist Giora Goldberg also expresses worries that voters will be less than enamored with putting the same people back in power, including on the right. “The coronavirus threat is taking the attention of the average voter more than the override bill, settlements, annexation, the Golan and the future of Jerusalem. All it takes is the lion’s share of potential right-wing voters not showing up at the ballots to cause a disaster. You can’t rely on miracles and wonders and even Netanyahu is not a magician who can do anything,” he writes.
  • Calcalist, Yedioth’s financial daily, goes through what it says are all the various ills that will come about if Israel is dragged back to elections, from the continuing lack of a police chief and other important positions, to delays of key reforms in a number of sectors, to five unneeded ministries, which it calculates cost the state NIS 50 million, continuing to get money to do nothing.
  • “If the government dissolves, the offices will continue to operate until there’s a new government, likely January-February 2021. That means for nine months (from May 2020 to February 2021, these superfluous ministries will operate even though they can’t do much of anything during a transition government period,” it writes.

4. The cost of no budget: Somewhat lost in all the politics is the fact that Israel still does not have a budget, and should the budget bill pass, will likely not have one until December at the earliest.

  • In ToI, Haviv Rettig Gur writes that “Netanyahu’s case that a one-year budget makes for better policy seemed believable last month. Finance Ministry and Bank of Israel officials all backed the idea. But as the weeks have passed, it has become increasingly clear that their support came not because they believed it was better policy, but because they believed Netanyahu was capable of going to new elections without passing any budget at all — and no budget could be disastrous for the country. The current 2020 budget is running on 2019 numbers, since that is the last budget framework approved by the Knesset. That means the roughly NIS 400 billion ($117 billion) budget is about NIS 15 billion ($4.4 billion) short of spending needs, and that is without the enormous sums the pandemic has already cost, with stimulus spending, compensation for lost wages and shuttered businesses, and lost tax revenues.”
  • “Suddenly we don’t need a budget?” asks Gad Lior in Yedioth, predicting the disastrous results of such a decision.
  • “The decision could cause the smarting economy to absorb an ever worse blow: the lowering of the credit rating exactly two years after it hit its all time high. And that’s just the start of the snowball: Lowering the credit rating will lead to raising interest rates for loans Israel will need to take, costs the government will pass on to the public via new taxes and cuts to services, which will bring down more business and their owners, and the fear is that Israel will again cross the 1 million unemployed mark and push more middle class Israelis below the poverty line.”
  • The Marker, Haaretz’s financial product, reports that “the Treasury has not been working on the budget for the last month and a half. This situation is not expected to change. With a decision on a one-year or two-year budget, even pushing off the deadline won’t help Israel. If they are not given instruction in the next few days, Israel will again reach November without a prepared budget, not for the end of 2020 and not for the start of 2021.”
  • The Globes financial daily tries to round up what the experts say about a one-year budget versus a two years and finds almost everyone believes a two-year budget the way to go, though Bank of Israel chief Amir Yaron, who warned Sunday of the damage of not passing a budget, has said there is no real difference.
  • As for the one-year budget backers, “We found only two prominent names,” the paper reports, “Shlomo Maoz, the economic analyst for Maariv, and former finance minister and Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid. Both claim that uncertainty around 2021 does not allow preparing a two-year budget.”

5. Seeing Israel in Beirut: If the scenario of a budget-less Israel sounds to you like a certain basket-case state to the north of Israel, you are not alone, with some seeing parallels between protests in Jerusalem and Beirut.

  • “By our northern neighbor, the protesters are already descending on parliament. This is a state that is divided, corrupt, under the thumb of a terror group, which itself lives on corrupt money and Iran, the main result of which is hatred and incitement. Once, long ago, when the sectoral battles forced themselves upon it, we called this Lebanonization,” writes Ben-Dror Yemini in Yedioth. “It’s worth looking north, since Lebanonization is happening here too. With one difference. Here, the regime is leading the disintegration. Look, Netanyahu is trying to drag us to fourth elections.”
  • In Haaretz, columnist Odeh Bisharat writes that Lebanese see Israel as “a measurement for destruction, killing, expulsion, arrogance and blind force,” and wishes that Israelis would stop looking at Lebanon and leave it alone.
  • “Israel is weeping over the bitter fate of Lebanon because of Hezbollah, but it is Israel that reinforced Hezbollah’s status. Had there not been an occupation that lasted for about 20 years, today Hezbollah would have been an ordinary Lebanese political party at most. Israel continues even now to maintain its power, when it makes additional threats against Lebanon, and belligerent declarations from extreme right-wing elements that Israel will destroy all of the country’s infrastructure,” he writes.
  • Indeed, some in the press are continuing to see the explosion as something Israel may actually make hay out of, pushing forward the idea that the ammonium nitrate was intended for use against Israel.
  • “When a massive stockpile of weapons-grade ammonium nitrate exploded in the Beirut port on Aug. 4, it was without a doubt a tragedy of horrific proportions,” writes Alex Traiman for JNS, in a piece carried by Israel Hayom. “Yet for Israel, there is one major consolation: The stockpile of ammonium nitrate and the collateral damage it caused may well have been earmarked for Israel.”
  • Walla’s Amir Buhbut reports that the army is continuing to maintain its high alert on the northern border, but is getting increasingly annoyed at having to keep troops up there. Meanwhile, he says Hezbollah is reading Israel “like a book,” and taking advantage of political instability here for its own benefit.
  • Buhbut’s advice to the Israeli military: Pipe down and carry a bigger stick. “Given the situation, the IDF needs to speak less and threaten in a more concrete manner,” he writes. “The army cannot make peace with the situation along the border, especially when the Shiite terror group is at one of its lowest points in decades. They cannot allow Hezbollah to manage to distract public attention away from the growing civilian protests, which are aimed mostly at it.”
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