Opinion

Israel Has No New Government – and That's Great News

Former finance minister, Moshe Kahlon, at a cabinet meeting, September 23, 2019.
Emil Salman

From all sides we’re hearing cries of woe: Give us a government, we want a government, and it makes no difference to us whether it’s a national unity government, right-wing or left-wing. The main thing is that it be formed and do all the good things that are being delayed.

Let it solve the problem of the patients in the hospital corridors, increase the health care budget, increase allowances for the disabled and the elderly, build apartments for the homeless, continue with afternoon day care, prevent domestic violence, increase the budget to help prevent traffic and work accidents, and approve the military’s new five-year plan.

President Reuven Rivlin is also showing enthusiastic support for forming a government. He has even mapped out a precise work plan for it: “Dealing with the old woman in the hospital, the children in special education, preventing the deaths by violence in the Arab community, the residents of the south who need protection and the [battered] women needing shelters.” How good our president is. He has no funding problems.

But the government to be formed will have a huge funding problem. It won’t be allowed to add a single shekel to the budget, so it won’t be able to handle all the important tasks. Instead of adding, it will be forced to cut 20 billion shekels ($5.8 billion) to address the tough legacy left by the good and beneficent Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon: a much greater budget deficit than planned.

But budget cutting isn’t popular; not one politician mentions the idea. That’s why there’s a real danger that when the new government is formed, it won’t do what’s necessary. It won’t cut the 20 billion shekels, so it will lead the economy into a lowering of Israel’s credit rating and a profound crisis.

Also, the moment a new government is formed, the coalition agreements that cost billions will arrive. A few days ago officials from Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party presented the Finance Ministry’s Budget Division with an expensive list of demands. Imagine what the ultra-Orthodox, the settlers and the Labor Party will demand.

That’s why a caretaker government isn’t such a bad idea. Instead of continuing the wasteful spending in 2020, the caretaker government will work with a budget that’s the 2019 budget plus only 1 percent, the inflation rate. The ministries will be allowed to spend one-twelfth of the total per month. That will block the politicians from making promises or increasing spending, and lead to the advisable cut of 20 billion shekels in the 2020 budget and a solution to the deficit problem.

Unlike the scaremongering, life itself won’t come to a stop. This budget enables operations on 2019's level, and that’s high enough – annual spending of 400 billion shekels. And if there are specific problems, they’ll be solved with the help of special committees. What’s the matter? Even the government is allowed to save and streamline, not just the private sector. In addition, no new employees will be hired at ministries – and there’s already heavy overstaffing there.

Every ministry will be forced to manage within this year’s framework based on priorities to be decided. It won’t be possible to impose new taxes, and that’s good; it won’t be possible to sign wage agreements in the public sector, and that’s fair.

No new laws will be passed, and that’s great. No new regulations will be passed, and that’s tremendous. Even the army will be forced to manage with its large budget, and that’s a revolution. The government won’t be able to embark on military adventures, and what’s wrong with that?

For 20 years, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai claimed that it was impossible to operate public transportation on Shabbat in the city because all the power was in the hands of the transportation minister, who opposed it. Recently public pressure increased, and he was forced to allow public transportation on Shabbat, which has turned into a big success.

The ultra-Orthodox raised an outcry. Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich said angrily that Huldai had taken advantage of “the twilight period.”

Well, I just love that twilight period.