Netanyahu Is Holding the State Budget Hostage

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The hands of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March 8, 2020.
File photo: The hands of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March 8, 2020.Credit: Oded Balilty,AP

The state of Israel continues to be held hostage by a prime minister, charged with crimes, who is sparing no effort to escape the law.

There is no appointment, asset or even essential public need that is not being coffered by Benjamin Netanyahu and his coterie of sycophants as a bargaining chip for political or legal purposes. In one instance, it might be Transport Minister Miri Regev who threatens to prevent Eyal Berkovic from getting the job of coach of the national soccer team until he obeys her and apologizes for insulting Likud. By the same token, it could be the state budget that provides an excuse to get out of the coalition agreement and halt the transfer of power to Benny Gantz.

The government has been operating without a proper budget since 2018. As recalled, the budget crisis between Likud and Kahol Lavan ended in a compromise cooked up by MK Zvi Hauser which gave the government a three-month deferral, until the last week of December, to pass the 2020 budget. If it fails to pass a budget the government will fall.

This, after Netanyahu insisted a few months ago on passing the 2020 budget for a mere three-month period, claiming it would be irresponsible to approve a budget for as far ahead as a year and a half — a claim that has nothing to do with responsibility, economic logic or the public interest. This was a cynical ploy of political survival aimed at preventing him from being tried in court. Netanyahu only exploited a loophole in the coalition agreement to allow him to topple the government without letting Gantz have his turn as prime minister.

Gantz called on Netanyahu on Thursday to prepare a budget for 2021 and have the government approve it by December. “You have violated our agreement, don’t harm the citizens of the country,” he wrote. Gantz is right to make this demand. It is clear that Israel needs an orderly budget through the end of 2021 all the more so at the height of the coronavirus crisis that is hurting its economy.

Israel’s best economists feel that way, among them, Bank of Israel governor Prof. Amir Yaron who in an interview with Army Radio said on Thursday: “A failure to pass the budget adds an unnecessary dimension of uncertainty to the economic and health crisis … we must not get stuck with a budget of continuation into 2021 … the markets are also watching our conduct.”

Likud, as it is wont to do, has accused Kahol Lavan of playing politics and Netanyahu has even shamelessly claimed that its leaders are “pushing us toward an election.” Such claims do not merit any serious consideration. Netanyahu is preventing approval of a budget in order to avoid handing over power and, instead, hold an election at his convenience as caretaker prime minister. His lies add insult to injury. He must answer Gantz’s request to prepare a budget and get it approved by December without his games and tricks.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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