Will Israel’s new budget be effective or catastrophic? – opinion

Shortly after 3 a.m. Friday, the Knesset finally approved the 2021 and 2022 budgets and the accompanying Arrangements Act.

It is very rare that Knesset sessions are extended to Friday, the Muslim day of rest, and Arab MPs protested, but the spill lasted only three hours and the coalition was able to celebrate its achievement of ensuring its continued existence for the next 17 months. . , and now you can start implementing your budget and accompanying reforms, for better or for worse.

The last time the Knesset approved a budget was on March 15, 2018. It was the last budget approved by a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu. The Finance Minister was Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu), Avigdor Liberman was the Defense Minister and the current President Isaac Herzog was the leader of the opposition.

Why was a budget not approved for more than two and a half years? Because from December 2018 to May 2020, Israel was ruled by governments in transition and governments in transition cannot submit budgets.

From May 2020 to December 2020, Israel was ruled by a rotation government led by Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, and because it was believed that Netanyahu planned to breach the rotation agreement (which would have made Gantz interim prime minister on November 17 ). 2021), and could not deny that he was planning such a move, Blue and White raised difficulties over the budget for 2021/22 which was brought to the Knesset for approval.

Therefore, until last Friday, Israel existed with “continuation budgets” (the last approved budget, divided into 12 for each month) plus “boxes”, which are financial allocations outside the approved budget, necessary for emergency situations, as unexpected military operations. and the crown pandemic, and are financed by increasing the national debt, without presenting new planned budgets, reflecting new priorities accompanied by the legislative reforms necessary to implement them.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman at the cabinet meeting, November 7, 2021 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM / THE JERUSALEM POST)

AT LEAST technically, the new budgets for 2021/22 return financial behavior to normal, while the Knesset’s involvement in budget oversight and approval returns an important element to democratic behavior, which was lacking in recent years, by less technically.

In a democratic system, the government cannot implement a state budget without the approval of parliament.

The problem is that today, with the vast dimensions of state budgets and their complexity, parliaments do not really have the capacity to thoroughly review the budget programs that the government presents to them for approval.

In all parliamentary democracies today, the government has several procedural tricks to ensure that the budgets they present are approved on time, and that the various means that the opposition has to prolong the budget debate, mainly filibusters, are limited in the extent possible.

In Israel, where the political situation further aggravates the problem, Article 98 of the Knesset Rules states: “In a debate on the State Budget Law, and in other exceptional cases, the House Committee has the right to determine special debate procedures, which include the setting of a framework for the debate and the duration of the speeches ”.

Of course, it is not the House Committee of the Knesset that initiates the proceedings, but the coalition. Knesset legal staff can advise and assist the coalition, but cannot refuse to comply with your requests, as long as they are based on the Rules of Procedure or a law.

On Thursday night, after the budget for 2021 and the Economic Arrangements Law had already been approved, and the budget for 2022 was being voted, an article of the budget law was not approved in plenary, because MK Emilie Moatti (Labor) accidentally voted with the opposition.

The coalition decided to return the article immediately to the Finance and House committees for renewed preparation for the second and third readings, a process that would surely take at least several hours. Several members of the opposition began to attack the legal advisers of the Finance Committee and the House Committee for allegedly “collaborating” with the government in the application of the provisions of Article 98 of the Regulations, which in this particular situation forced MPs to stay in the Knesset until early Friday morning.

The complaints against the coalition for its use of article 98 in this situation were partially justified, since what the coalition needed to prevent the government from falling in the first stage was for the Budget Law for 2021 to be approved before November 14 , while there was no urgency for the rest of the budget legislation to be approved immediately. In fact, the government had until March 31, 2022 to pass the additional legislation.

In defense of the government, it can be said that he had an interest in finalizing the budget approval process as soon as possible, because the behavior of the Jewish members of the opposition was unbearable and, in addition to the usual legitimate obstruction tactics to waste time. , included vicious lies and defamatory expressions against the government, its members and the motivation in the course of his harangues.

For example, several Likud deputies repeated the argument that much of the budget allocations and reforms were designed to further deliberately weaken weaker sections of the population, such as the congestion charge, which they claimed was designed to prevent the population of the periphery from entering Tel Aviv; taxes on disposable plates, glasses, and silverware, which they claimed were designed to harm the Haredim, who have large families; and the imposition of taxes on drinks with high levels of sugar, which are often much cheaper than diet drinks.

MK David Amsalem provided especially graphic descriptions of these baseless allegations. Not a single suggestion was made about better ways to deal with the unbearable congestion in Tel Aviv, the problem of mountains of plastic waste, or the problem of excessive sugar consumption.

Under these circumstances, the government had no interest in prolonging the circus, which contributed nothing to the strength of democracy.

In December 1995, less than two months after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, while the government, then headed by Shimon Peres, was busy getting the Knesset to pass the 1996 budget, the Knesset House Committee held a special meeting on abuse. of legitimate opposition tactics to deal with the annual budget (Likud was still in opposition and Netanyahu was the leader of the opposition).

An effort was made to come up with some constructive solutions that would allow the government to pass the budget smoothly, while ensuring the right of the opposition to fight it. Then nothing effective was achieved, and unfortunately it does not seem that any change can be achieved today, if someone will try to repair the current perverted situation, which is much worse than in 1995.

BUT ISRAEL now has a budget. If it’s a good budget, with numerous reforms and means to tackle some of the country’s burning problems (including the bleak state of the Arab sector), time will tell.

Some predict that it is a budget that can be compared to Netanyahu’s mythological budget for 2004, when he served as finance minister in the Ariel Sharon government. Others claim that it is a catastrophic budget that will benefit only MK Mansour Abbas and Hamas.

This time next year, we will be wiser.

The writer was a researcher at the Knesset Research and Information Center until her retirement, and recently published a book in Hebrew, The Job of the Knesset Member – An Undefined Job, which will soon be published in English by Routledge.


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