Israeli Knesset passes first state budget in three years

Israeli Knesset passes first state budget in three years
2 min read
04 November, 2021
Israeli Knesset members have approved the first state budget in three years, in a victory for the disparate coalition that rules Israel.
Israel's disparate coalition partners agreed a new state budget [Getty]

Israeli Knesset members have passed the country's first state budget in three years Thursday in a victory for the ideologically disparate coalition that unseated long-time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in June.

MPs approved a 609 billion shekel ($194 billion) spending plan for 2021 and are to resume debate later in the day on a 573 billion shekel package for next year.

"Celebration day for the state of Israel," Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted after the vote.

"After years of chaos, we have formed a government, we have conquered Delta (variant of the coronavirus) and now, praise God, we have passed a budget for Israel."

The stakes could not have been higher for Bennett, a right-wing religious nationalist whose coalition of hawks, centrists, left-wingers and Islamists controls just 61 of the 120 seats in parliament.

His coalition had until November 14 to get the budget approved to prevent parliament being dissolved, which would have forced a fifth election in three years.

Israel had not passed a state budget during that time, a symptom of the unprecedented political gridlock that plagued the country from December 2018 until when Bennett's government was sworn in.

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Netanyahu in the wings

It took until 5 am (0300 GMT) for parliament to complete the vote on the 2021 budget with hundreds of spending measures requiring individual votes through the night.

But there had been fears that the process might take days with now opposition leader Netanyahu playing the role of spoiler for the government that finally brought an end to his 12 straight years in power.

Commentators said that the ease and relative speed with which the budget passed showed that the coalition could hold together even with its deep ideological differences and its wafer-thin majority.

Netanyahu had addressed lawmakers during the debate, accusing Bennett of leading "a government of liars".

"We must bring down this irresponsible government," he told MPs.

Bennett retorted that the opposition under the former premier's leadership was seeking only "chaos."

"We want stability," he said.

It was a budget deadlock that sank the last, short-lived coalition led by Netanyahu and his alternate premier Benny Gantz.

Gantz accused Netanyahu of deliberately blocking the budget's passage in December 2020 to force an election, which the premier hoped would secure him and his right-wing allies an outright Knesset majority.

But Netanyahu came up short in the March vote for the fourth time in two years, paving the way for Bennett and centrist leader Yair Lapid, now the foreign minister, to forge a coalition.