Day Before Deadline, Israeli Lawmakers Struggle for Compromise on Bill to Stave Off Election

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Knesset Finance committee convenes to discuss delaying deadline for passing state budget, August 23, 2020.
Knesset Finance committee convenes to discuss delaying deadline for passing state budget, August 23, 2020. Credit: Adina Valman/Knesset

The Knesset Finance Committee convened Sunday to discuss legislation that would push the deadline for passing a state budget to late November, potentially staving off a fourth election in less than two years.

However, the meeting was suspended at the request of Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin until later in the evening to allow Likud and Kahol Lavan to reach a consensus on the issue. If the two leading parties come to an understanding, the meeting will resume at 9 P.M. and the committee will vote on the bill to extend the deadline.

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After passing through the committee, the Knesset plenum will vote on the legislation in the second and third readings on Monday.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan expressed an atmosphere of pressure Sunday night amid negotiations with Likud. "At a time when nine million citizens expect us to unite and handle security concerns and the coronavirus, Likud is busy with political games," said Kahol Lavan in a statement, addeding "they are spitting in the face of Israeli citizens for personal reasons."

According to a source involved in the negotiations, "Likud completely distance themselves from the agreement. They [Likud] demand that the freezing of appointments be only on our side. That is, the Likud will be able to appoint a police commissioner but Kahol Lavan will not be able to appoint the state attorney." The source added "Netanyahu has decided to step on us completely in exchange for postponing the dissolution of the Knesset or going to the polls. "

Should the August 25 deadline elapse without a budget being passed, the Knesset will have to be dissolved by law. 

A bill proposed by lawmaker Zvi Hauser would extend the deadline by 100 days. Hauser’s proposal would also place a 100-day freeze on appointments that must be approved by the cabinet, such as the state prosecutor. During these 100 days, a committee would be formed to discuss how the appointments will be decided upon.

Members of both Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud are discussing the proposed compromise and are debating what to do. Kahol Lavan is inclined to support it, as it would put an end to the idea of a single-year budget, which the party rejects in favor of a two-year budget as laid out in its coalition agreement with Likud, and would apparently not allow Netanyahu to intervene in various appointments, but rather put them in the hands of a committee.

It is unclear how Likud will act. Netanyahu spent Saturday at his official residence, speaking with his close advisers and considering his options. In the meantime, the rhetorical sparring between the two parties has continued. On Friday, Kahol Lavan referred to Public Security Minister Amir Ohana of Likud as “a lackey,” and on Saturday Likud attacked Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi of Kahol Lavan, saying he was “a tireless underminer. Up to the last moment, Ashkenazi continues to make every effort to drag Israel to an election in order to get rid of Gantz. It’s best for Ashkenazi to give out grades in his expertise: Serious security leaks, sabotaging candidates for the chief of staff, and criminal subversion against the political leadership.”

Ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism said Sunday morning that they support Hauser's proposed bill which is supposed to reconcile between Kahol Lavan and Likud. The two other members of the coalition said that "It is imperative to prevent an unnecessary election campaign and to work together for the citizens of Israel in the fight against the coronavirus and in the severe economic crisis plaguing Israel."

Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich criticized the proposed bill during the meeting and said it's "probably going to sentence us to more months of paralysis without a budget, without the state's ability to conduct itself properly, and it postpones the election for only a few months."

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