It’s pretty amazing, when you consider that after everything this country has been through in the past year, the government still can’t agree about passing the state budget.
A reminder: in the coalition agreement signed between the Likud and Blue and White parties in May, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to pass a two-year budget within 100 days of forming his unity government. Benny Gantz insisted on the clause as a way to pin Netanyahu down to his commitment to rotate out of the Prime Minister‘s office next November.
But that commitment barely lasted the time it took for the ink to dry. In August, ahead of the budget deadline, Netanyahu refused to pass a budget and instead, at the last moment, agreed to enact legislation to allow it to pass until December.
That deadline is now fast approaching, and Gantz last Thursday wrote to Netanyahu demanding that, this time, the prime minister abide by his agreement and pass a budget for 2021.
But Netanyahu has again refused, and instead, he said on Thursday that he would only pass a 2020 budget and postpone the 2021 budget until March.
You may be wondering what a budget passed in December does for 2020, and you’d be right. With only a few days left in the month once the budget is adopted, it will be irrelevant.
By law, a newly-formed government must pass a budget within 100 days of taking power – or gain an extension through legislation – if it wants to retain its mandate. So, you might wonder, why does Netanyahu not pass a 2021 budget in December?
On the one hand, such a move would keep the government intact because the budget will have been passed, but it also would deny Netanyahu an exit point from the coalition that he could keep for March, the deadline to pass the 2021 budget, and, for him, this is vital.
If he passes a 2021 budget now, Netanyahu will be locked into allowing Gantz to become prime minister, but what he really wants is time so that if by March he can climb back up in the polls and regain the potential seats he has lost to Yamina and its popular leader Naftali Bennett, he will be able to call an early election and hope to benefit from it.
Despite a raging pandemic and a plummeting economy, Netanyahu is once again playing politics on the back of Israel’s citizens. With hundreds of thousands still out of work, and small businesses closing every day, a state budget is crucial now more than ever.
Countless organizations such as shelters who protect women from domestic abuse, rape crisis centers, hospitals and others are all struggling to make ends meet because there still is no state budget.
These organizations rely on state funding for a large portion of their budget, and as long as there isn’t one, they have great difficulty functioning. In other words, politicians are holding the country hostage in order to advance their own personal goals.
This is not the first time that Netanyahu has put himself before the nation. It has become a recurring problem when the prime minister puts politics before the pandemic and worries more about his own survival than the survival of Israel’s economy.
If we have learned anything since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in March, it is that the government has to act responsibly, clearly and strategically to be able to keep the country safe. Unfortunately, this is not happening at the moment.
What is truly motivating Netanyahu is a fear that if he were to call an election in December, he would lose too many seats to Bennett, who has seen a significant rise in popularity due to his straightforward and clear plan for fighting COVID-19.
Gantz must stand strong and refuse to acquiesce to Netanyahu’s ploy to use the state budget as a political weapon that has one aim – ensuring his political survival. This is the time for true leadership. Israel needs a budget now.
Netanyahu - Stop your games.