Budget bickering delays aid for Gaza border residents

NIS 1.3b for the South not finalized, as ministerial meetings canceled while Netanyahu, Lapid cannot agree on the 2015 budget.

Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid stands in a house damaged by a rocket, fired by Palestinian militants, that landed in the southern town of Sderot (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid stands in a house damaged by a rocket, fired by Palestinian militants, that landed in the southern town of Sderot
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The NIS 1.3b aid package for Gaza border towns announced immediately after Operation Protective Edge still has not been finalized two weeks after it was brought to the cabinet for preliminary approval, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid argue over the 2015 state budget.
There has not been a meeting of the full cabinet in the past two weeks, officially because ministers were unable to go on vacation over the summer due to Operation Protective Edge.
However, political sources say the true reason for not holding meetings is because there was no 2015 budget proposal to bring to the ministers, since Netanyahu and Lapid continue wrangling over the deficit, whether to raise taxes, and how much the defense budget should be increased.
Meanwhile, residents of Gaza border communities are still waiting for government aid and the “strategic plan for long-term economic, social, and housing development” for Sderot and Gaza border towns cannot be approved.
Two weeks ago, ministers approved the budgetary framework of the NIS 1.3b aid package, which was meant to be used over five years to provide engines for growth in industry, agriculture, construction and welfare in towns near the Gaza border.
The package could be approved only after the details of how the money would be spent are outlined and the ministers vote on them again.
As instructed in the cabinet decision, Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Harel Locker prepared a detailed plan a week later, in cooperation with his counterparts from the Housing and Construction, Agriculture, Negev and Galilee Development, Economy, Welfare, Justice, and Interior ministries, as well as Finance Ministry budget director Amir Levi and Defense Ministry emergency department head Bezalel Treiber.
However, the ministers did not meet last Sunday or this Sunday, and could not vote on the full plan within a week, as the original cabinet decision said they would.
“The plan is ready,” a source in the Prime Minister’s Office said Monday. “It was supposed to go to a vote yesterday, but that was canceled. The plan is to bring it up at the next cabinet meeting.”
The source explained that the ministers cannot vote over the phone, because of the plan’s high cost and complexity.
When asked if there would be a ministerial vote even if Netanyahu and Lapid cannot compromise on the 2015 budget, she responded, “I don’t know,” and repeated “the plan is to bring it up at the next meeting.”
The Labor Party called for Netanyahu to immediately call a cabinet meeting and approve the aid package.
“Residents of Gaza border towns became hostages in the ego battles between Netanyahu and Lapid,” a party spokesman said. “The government’s treatment of the South is hypocritical and irresponsible.”
The Labor spokesman added that the government “praises the southern residents’ strength, while putting them through torture just to get the money they deserve.”
MK Gila Gamliel (Likud), the coalition’s coordinator in the Knesset Finance Committee, called for the government to make approving the plan a top priority.
According to Gamliel, the aid package has to come before the 2015 budget or Lapid’s 0% VAT on housing plan.
“The first thing that must be done is strengthen the South. We need to stop everything and just approve the aid money for residents of the South,” she told The Jerusalem Post. “It doesn’t make sense that throughout [Operation Protective Edge] they stood on the front lines and defended Israel, but as of today they are economically naked and aren’t getting the minimum they need to return to daily activity.”