Analysis

Netanyahu Gets an Extra Year in Office on a Silver Platter

Don’t look for an economic reason for the weird budget-in-advance idea; there isn’t any. The answer lies in the political arena

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem October 1, 2017.
POOL/REUTERS

Whether or not it’s connected, the new idea that emerged Sunday – the plan to approve the 2019 budget 15 months before that year begins – emerged after the veto by the High Court of Justice of the previous idea, the biannual budget. As idea chases idea and gamble follows gamble, for all that this government is so focused on the future, it forgot to send a representative – even a junior one, like a deputy minister – to the annual memorial ceremony for the fallen of the Yom Kippur War. If this wasn’t our circus, we’d be laughing.

Don’t look for an economic reason for the weird budget-in-advance idea; there isn’t any. The answer lies in the political arena. During the past half year, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has been operating under constant terror resulting from the trauma called the broadcasting corporation Kan. Since that crazy saga that now looks like a nightmare, he has said he no longer has confidence in the prime minister who deceived him, betrayed him and turned him into the bad guy and the enemy of the workers.

From Kahlon’s perspective, Netanyahu could declare new elections in a second for reasons that are well known, something that isn’t compatible with the finance minister’s political agenda. Kahlon needs a full term to present satisfactory results in the realm of housing prices.

If the 2019 budget is approved during the coming winter session that starts in less than three weeks and continues for six months, the coalition will have an insurance policy that will take it to the end of its legal term at the end of 2019, four years and eight months from the previous elections. Kahlon needs that time, as do the other coalition partners. Netanyahu, who is expected to support the initiative, will get a gift on a silver platter that will assure him rare coalition quiet.

Of course the prime minister can always shatter the calm if he wants to and if he finds a good enough reason. But as long as he has no interest in sudden elections his life will be paradise. He will be essentially immune to removal unless one of his partners bolts and hooks up with the opposition, which seems hard to imagine. None of them have a government better suited to their interests on the horizon.

The feeling is that our leaders are using the public treasury as glue to keep their rear ends stuck to their ministerial seats. What’s the hurry to deal with the 2019 budget when it isn’t even 2018 yet?

There seems to be no end to the tricks and intrigues of Netanyahu’s fourth government. But with so much sophistication it sometimes crashes on its tuchus. That’s what happened Sunday with the “jobs for cronies” bill, its popular and justified nickname, which was submitted to the government by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and sent back by the cabinet to the Justice Ministry. The bill, which would allow the political appointment of deputy directors-general in government ministries, was greeted with contempt by many ministers, including the prime minister, for whom it wasn’t enough; he demanded no less than a “revolution.” After eight-and-a-half years in power he suddenly decides to be a revolutionary.

Directors-general come and go according to the political winds. Deputy directors-general are veteran officials. They help the newly appointed director-general learn the ins and outs of the job, so that he can quickly grasp the issues before his minister is replaced, and he with him. There’s no point in also appointing a new deputy who will draw his power directly from the minister and essentially be another director-general with zero knowledge and zero experience, but with lots of political power, whose main job will be to help the minister when called upon.