Finance committee held up as defense budget remains up in the air

MKs to wait for Netanyahu's return with details of US aid package; Mandatory service soldiers' salaries to be raised.

Finance Ministry chief economist Yoel Naveh (left) speaks to the Knesset Finance Committee in Jerusalem (photo credit: KNESSET)
Finance Ministry chief economist Yoel Naveh (left) speaks to the Knesset Finance Committee in Jerusalem
(photo credit: KNESSET)
The final vote on the state budget in the Knesset Finance Committee was delayed until Sunday, as the Defense and Finance Ministries continued to spar over the size of the defense budget.
The committee had planned to approve the budget Wednesday. If the budget does not go to a final plenum vote by the end of next week, the law dictates that an election will have to be called.
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) said in the Finance Committee that he is awaiting Netanyahu’s return from the US on Thursday, after which the premier will meet with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and decide on the size of the defense budget.
Upon his return, Netanyahu is likely to be able to give the ministers details of the expected American aid package, which goes towards defense.
Also holding up the budget is another matter Netanyahu will have to mediate: a demand by Shas chairman and minister of the Negev, Galilee and Periphery Arye Deri to cancel value-added tax on public transportation, while the Finance Ministry resisted setting a precedent of 0 VAT laws.
The defense budget is the largest item in the state budget, amounting to NIS 56.1b. for 2016, an amount that Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot say is too little. As such, the joint Finance-Defense Committee on the Defense Budget voted against that amount, saying it is not enough to meet Israel’s defense challenges.
The coalition had planned to use parliamentary tricks to approve the state budget in the Finance Committee despite not having approved a defense budget.
Earlier Wednesday, Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (UTJ) said he would not postpone the votes and would hold them despite not knowing the size of the defense budget.
MKs across the political spectrum lamented the situation.
“This is shameful,” said MK Manuel Trajtenberg (Zionist Union). “The defense minister is part of the government that approved this budget, and he called on us to reject it, and we – out of responsibility – acquiesced, and now they’re demanding we approve it.”
“The prime minister had enough time to solve this problem,” Trajtenberg grumbled.
MK Moti Yogev (Bayit Yehudi) said the situation was “unprecedented,” and that the defense budget as it stands “does not allow the IDF to fulfill its aim to defend the State of Israel. We cannot authorize it as it is, and therefore, we cannot vote on the state budget until the defense budget is approved.”
After the vote was called off, the Zionist Union’s spokesman said: “The Netanyahu government, the government of natural blackmailers, has no right to exist.”
Meanwhile, the Defense and Finance ministries agreed to invest an additional NIS 680m. to pay salaries of soldiers in mandatory service.
“The desire to help IDF soldiers is one shared by the entire government,” Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan said in the plenum, as the coalition voted down an opposition proposal to raise soldiers’ salaries.
“As a father of two soldiers in mandatory service, I am happy to tell them that the government budgeted NIS 680m. to that end, thanks to pressure from Bayit Yehudi and Kulanu,” which included increased wages for soldiers in their coalition agreements.
The government has yet to decide whether the funds will go to increasing soldiers’ monthly pay or towards the grant they receive at the end of their service.