Too soon to celebrate stability before budget - analysis

Remember when passing a state budget and not holding multiple elections every year were not considered accomplishments? Those feats will indeed bring normalcy.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman during a vote on the state budget in the Knesset last month. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman during a vote on the state budget in the Knesset last month.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Before the voting had started on the 2021 state budget and before any real debate on the bill had begun, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman was already taking victory photos with his Yisrael Beytenu MKs in the Knesset plenum on Tuesday morning.

People told Liberman afterward that a seasoned, veteran politician like him should know better than to celebrate too soon.

The Hebrew phrase “You only count the money in the stairway” and baseball legend Yogi Berra’s “It ain’t over till it’s over” both applied. But in this case, Liberman is the one giving away the money – and projecting confidence has its merits in the sport of politics.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appeared to be more cautious when he told the cabinet on Wednesday that there would be exhausting days and nights before the budget passes into law.

But then he added his own hyperbole when he said that “passing the budget would guarantee stability for the country” because an early election will be prevented.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaking at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, November 1, 2021.  (credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO) Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaking at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, November 1, 2021. (credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)

With that statement, Bennett was guilty of the same crime of premature celebration as Liberman. To Liberman’s credit, at least he had a firm basis to believe he would be proven right within three days; Bennett still has almost 22 months in office to prove he has brought real stability.

Remember when passing a state budget and not holding multiple elections every year were not considered accomplishments? Those feats will indeed bring normalcy – to use a word Liberman invoked when speaking to his faction on Monday.

However, delivering on a promise to bring actual stability is a much harder challenge.

In that same cabinet meeting, Ayelet Shaked on the Right and Merav Michaeli on the Left fought over whether new Jewish communities should be built in the Negev, along with three new Bedouin communities that had been approved.

The Labor leader has also picked fights lately with Defense Minister Benny Gantz on settlements and on whether Palestinian NGOs should be designated as supporting terrorism.

Once the burden of passing the budget has passed, the ministers will inevitably become unshackled and start fighting about everything. They will immediately attempt to keep their campaign promises, which is a recipe for political gridlock within the current government, even if elections are not on the way.

A poll Sunday indicating that Bennett’s Yamina Party would not cross the electoral threshold could motivate him to take rash steps to win back voters. The 20 seats that polls are predicting for Yesh Atid could embolden the party’s leader, Yair Lapid, who would be the caretaker prime minister if the government falls after the budget passes.

Bennett warned the cabinet that the opposition was seeking to impose chaos, dysfunction and a mess on the people of Israel by preventing the budget’s passage. Is there any guarantee that Bennett’s government can avoid those plagues if the budget does pass?

Coalition MKs were told that during the marathon voting on the budget, they could not have tablets in the plenum, in order to minimize distractions. They were also advised that before the votes, they should limit themselves to light meals.

Perhaps that advice should be maintained for the remainder of Bennett’s term – to avoid becoming unfocused and prevent political nausea.

If that works, then when Bennett leaves office, he can take plenty of victory photos, knowing that his sought-after stability was indeed achieved.