Israel has averted a constitutional crisis with Thursday’s passage of the country’s first budget in more than three years. Immediate early elections are, therefore, ruled out as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition has been able to overcome its differences and opposition objections.
The 2021 budget, approved with a wafer-thin margin of 61-59, was the most politically sensitive of the budget laws facing the Knesset, since a failure to pass it would have meant the automatic dissolution of parliament.
Legislators were due back in the plenum hours later to vote on the rest of a series of bills meant to guide the country’s spending until the end of 2022. The 61-59 vote saw lawmakers vote along coalition-opposition lines to approve the 2021 state budget in final readings just after 5 a.m, following an all-night session that they were expected to repeat to vote on the rest of the budget items.
The $194 billion spending plan for 2021 is the first budget Israel has passed since 2018, due to a prolonged political deadlock that saw successive governments fall before they could bring a proposal to the Knesset.
Passing the 2021 budget was a key test for Bennett’s eight-party coalition, both to prove that the ideologically disparate alliance can come together on major issues and because failure to do so by a November 14 deadline would have triggered new elections automatically.
Approval was quickly feted as a success by Bennett and other coalition leaders. Bennett tweeted that the budget’s passing was a “day of celebration for the State of Israel.” Also on the anvil is the Economic Arrangement Bill that details how the financial plan will be put into practice, followed by a vote on a $183 billion budget for 2022.
That budget doesn’t pose an immediate threat of early elections, but still must be passed by the end of March 2022. The overall budget plan includes nearly $10 billion in funding over five years to improve socio-economic conditions for Israel’s Arab minority, which the Arab Ra’am party had demanded as one of the conditions for their support.
It also hikes some taxes that the ultra-Orthodox argue will affect them the most. Despite having only a single seat edge over the opposition, the coalition managed to win all of the several hundred votes held late on Wednesday and early on Thursday.
In his remarks from the Knesset podium on Wednesday evening ahead of the voting, Bennett said passing the budget was “the most important moment since the government was formed.” He said the new budget comes “after three and a half years of chaos, failed management and paralysis, years in which the country was a tool in a personal game, years of four election campaigns one after another at a dead end.”