Knesset Passes Bill to Extend Budget Deadline in First Reading

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The discussion at the Knesset's Finance Committee in Jerusalem, on August 17, 2020.
The discussion at the Knesset's Finance Committee in Jerusalem, on August 17, 2020.Credit: Adina Valman / Knesset Spokesperson Unit

The Knesset approved Monday the first reading of a bill to extend the deadline for passing a state budget, an issue that has put Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and its coalition partner Kahol Lavan on collision course.

Despite the 62-38 vote, Likud and Kahol Lavan have yet to reach a compromise deal to break the deadlock. Should the deadline to do so expire on August 25th, the Knesset will have to be dissolved by law.

While Likud legislators seem inclined to favor the bill and prevent the Knesset’s dissolution next week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly tempted by the option of new elections, which could help him foil a rotation agreement sealed with Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid at the Knesset in Jerusalem on Monday, August 17, 2020.Credit: Adina Valman / Knesset Spokesperson Unit

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said before the vote that the government should “apologize with a look of shame” to Israeli citizens for seeking to extend the deadline. “All you are doing today is perpetuating the total failure of this government and the prime minister’s failure in handling the coronavirus crisis. You [the prime minister] should come forward and ask for forgiveness,” the leader of the opposition said.

MK Ayelet Shaked from the far-right Yamina also blasted the bill. “Israel needs a budget. Postponing the budget by three months throws thousands of people into the pool of unemployment,” she said. MK Nitzan Horowitz of the left-wing Meretz raised doubts on whether the bill would lead to the passing of the budget “because it’s the prime minister’s only chance to go to an election without handing over the premiership to Benny Gantz.”

During the discussion earlier Monday in the Finance Committee, which approved the bill, MK Zvi Hauser (Derech Eretz) said, “The bill will bring calm to Israel, allowing it to return to routine and deal with the challenges before it.” He added, “Anyone who thinks going to an election now is good news for Israel is nuts.”

Committee members from the opposition attacked Hauser and the bill to extend the deadline. “So, approve the budget,” said MK Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid). “Who’s holding you up? You’re a bunch of nothings.” He stated: “The law won’t prevent an election. This law may give room to breathe, or be a respirator for this sick government. Once again you’re amending basic laws to keep this government going.”

Construction and Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) called on President Reuven Rivlin to join him in an effort to prevent early elections.

“We can’t countenance holding an election in this difficult period, in which the economy is broken, infections are spreading and Israeli citizens expect its leadership to display responsibility for the nation’s needs,” he said.

Likud MKs want to use the extension to plan new funding for yeshiva religious schools thereby appeasing ultra-Orthodox parties before the coalition is dissolved.

The schools’ budget for 2020 has already run out and they face financial ruin if a new budget isn’t approved. With the extension of the budget approval deadline, Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (UTJ) intends to pass in conjunction with Likud a 4.2 billion shekel ($1.2 billion) education bill that would include 400 million shekels for the yeshivas.

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