Israel’s Knesset has passed a state budget for the first time in more than 3½ years, marking a key victory for the government of Naftali Bennett which enjoys a wafer-thin parliamentary majority.
The 2021 budget was passed on Thursday morning with 61 voting in favour and 59 against after a marathon all-night session. The Knesset reconvened on Thursday to discuss and vote on next year’s budget, which was also expected to pass by the narrowest of margins.
The 2021 budget needed to pass into law by November 14th to prevent the Knesset from being automatically dispersed, which would have initiated elections in February.
Mr Bennett tweeted that the budget's passing was a "day of celebration for Israel".
"After years of chaos – we created a government, overcame the coronavirus Delta variant and now, thank God, we passed a budget for Israel! Continuing forward at full strength," he wrote.
Passage of the budget came nearly five months after Mr Bennett's government took office, replacing veteran leader Binyamin Netanyahu following four inconclusive elections in two years.
Finance minister Avigdor Liberman said this was the first budget passed in 3½ years "because of the personal interests of one man, who was willing to sacrifice Israel's economy for his own interest", in a reference to Mr Netanyahu.
Mr Netanyahu torpedoed a budget under his power-sharing government with Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White, in order to bring down that coalition and avoid Mr Gantz becoming prime minister under the terms of an alternating premiership deal.
However, after the resulting inconclusive election Mr Netanyahu was unable to form a government, paving the way for right-wing rival Mr Bennett to form his own power-sharing coalition under which centrist Yair Lapid will assume the premiership in August 2023, if the coalition lasts that long.
Leaders of the broad-based coalition, which includes no fewer than eight parties from across the political spectrum as well as an Arab faction, have deliberately tried to put contentious issues to the side until the budget was passed.
It remains to be seen if the coalition, described as the most bizarre in Israel’s history, will be able to survive the post-budget period.
Any number of issues, such as West Bank settlement construction, permission for a US consulate for the Palestinians in Jerusalem and questions of religion and state, could potentially threaten the fragile coalition.
Ironically, the fact that Mr Netanyahu remains the leader of the opposition is the glue that is keeping the disparate coalition together. None of the coalition party leaders, at this juncture at least, wants to risk an election that may result in Mr Netanyahu’s return to power.