The Knesset plenum approved at 2:00 A.M. on Tuesday morning a change to the Basic Law: State Budget, which stipulates that the government budget will cover a span of two years (2015-2016), and also alters the various times the budget is subject to approval. 56 MKs voted in favor, and 54 against.
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There was drama preceding the approval, as coalition members were unsure that they had a majority. Minister Arye Dery took the podium, and killed time by expounding on the origins of the name Machlouf, which he added to his own name before the recent election. Only after Minister Yuval Steinitz was called into the Knesset from his home in Mevasseret Zion at 1:30 A.M. did the vote take place.
The vote was crucial for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who risked seeing his government fall by not meeting the deadline set in the Basic Law, the equivalent to Israel’s constitution. The prime minister had originally sought a three-year budget in the hopes of avoiding a wrenching budget debate in 2017 but failed to win over Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to the idea. The government has been operating under the 2014 budget in lieu of a 2015 budget.
According to the change to the basic law, the state's budget must be approved within 199 days after the Knesset election, as opposed to the previous 100. The government must approve the budget no later than August 23, 2015, and it will be submitted to the Knesset no later than August 31. It will then be subject to an initial reading no later than September 2, and must be approved after a second and third reading by November 19.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) labeled the drama surrounding the vote as “a Netanyahu summer camp.” Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon said that “the purpose of Dery’s speech was political survival,” adding that “the two-year budget is the worst of all possibilities. Netanyahu was forced to back down from the three-year budget, but he’s already proved that he’ll do anything to keep himself in power.”
MK Erel Margalit (Zionist Union) criticized the decision made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon not to approve a separate budget for 2015 as soon as the Knesset was convened after the election. MK Manuel Trajtenberg (Zionist Union) likened the budget plan to Greece, and said “every day that passes without a budget keeps the government from functioning properly.”
MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint Arab List) complained that “this ritual of altering the Basic Law on the budget happens over and over again,” adding that the government uses the budget to implement sanctions on various sectors of the Israeli public, and that Arab Israelis are adversely affected worst of all.