The Knesset began marathon voting on the 2021 state budget on Wednesday night, following a stormy session that featured the nastiest verbal fight yet between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his predecessor, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
Voting was set to continue all night on this year’s budget, which must pass by November 14 to prevent elections from being initiated. The Economic Arrangements Law and afterward the 2022 budget will then be passed by Friday morning in a total of some 600 votes.
Bennett declared the passage of the budget to be “the most important moment since the government was formed.” He predicted that after the budget becomes law, “the Likud will have to reconsider its direction,” a reference to replacing Netanyahu.
Netanyahu met with individual coalition members in an effort to persuade them to vote against the budget and bring the government down. He apparently did not succeed.
Not only did all 61 coalition members remain unified on Wednesday night, but the Joint List announced that it would not vote for the proposed amendments of the Likud and other right-wing parties in the opposition, which will make it easier for the coalition to defeat them.
Escalating his attack on Bennett and his allies in Yamina and New Hope, Netanyahu called them “Alex Goldfarbs,” referring to the right-wing Tzomet Party MK who voted for the Oslo agreement and enabled it to pass in 1995, in return for a deputy minister post and a Mitsubishi.
Netanyahu also accused Bennett of taking pictures at the climate change conference in Glasgow with world leaders who couldn’t care less about him.
After listing broken promises of Bennett, Netanyahu said Israelis are lucky there have not been taxes imposed for every one of them.
Bennett and Netanyahu exchanged blows regarding a report that the Ra’am (United Arab List) Party has ties with an NGO in the Gaza Strip that has ties with Hamas. Netanyahu alleged that funding from the budget will be funneled to the Islamic movement and that both Hamas and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas want the state budget to pass.
The prime minister vigorously denied the charges and said that Netanyahu was the last one who could make such charges.
“The suitcases of money to Hamas were his invention, and I stopped it,” Bennett said. “Not a single cent of the state budget is being transferred to Gaza or to Hamas. There is no clause in the budget and there will be no such clause: It is a baseless lie.”
Bennett told his ministers at Sunday’s cabinet meeting that they must consider passing the state budget as their ultimate challenge in the days ahead. He said the budget would guarantee stability for the country, economic growth and prosperity.
“While we steer the country toward stability, there are those pushing it toward a mess, chaos, dysfunction and more elections,” he said. “We are in the final stretch of this effort and its last days and nights will be exhausting, but the budget will pass.”
Bennett predicted that the coalition would win the vote on every single clause of the two state budgets.
The Bank of Israel urged the government to pass the 2021-2022 state budgets and praised the spending plan outlined by Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman.
In a statement, it emphasized the “tremendous economic importance of approving the state budget at this time, given that the economy has been operating since the beginning of 2020 on the basis of an interim budget.”
Reuters contributed to this report.