The Cabinet Monday evening passed a two-year budget, nearly five months late, with tax hikes and across-the-board cuts in spending, Only one minister voted against the budget, the second and last time it will cover two years instead of one.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who is chairman of the Yesh Atid party, said after the vote that the budget is “first stage in changing peoples’ lives in Israel.”
The Value Added Tax on most goods, except food, will rise from 17 percent to 18 percent. Income taxes will rise for upper income families, and ministries will have to get by with last outlays, meaning cuts in services.
Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer announced a surprise quarter-point cut in the interest ate Monday night, two weeks ahead of the end-of-the month decision n whether to change the rate for the following month. He also praised the new budget, which could lead the country out of a huge deficit that has mounted in the past three years following several years of a surplus.
A new government coalition finally took form Wednesday night and is expected to officially take the reins on Monday.
Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett mediated a crisis between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who had refused to back down from his demands for the Interior and education ministries.
Netanyahu has agreed to replace Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar with a Yesh Atid Knesset Member, Rabbi Shai Piron, while his deputy minster will be a Likud MK.
Lapid gave up his demand for the Interior Ministry, which apparently will be taken over by Sa’ar, and Bennett won his demand for the Jewish Home party to head the powerful Knesset Finance Committee. Lapid will be Finance Minister.
Amir Peretz, who ditched Labor to join Tzipi Livni’s party, will hold a Cabinet post, probably as Environment Minister.
The Jewish Home party will have three ministers, with Bennett taking over the portfolio of Industry and Trade. Most significantly, Jewish Home MK Uri Ariel may head the Housing Ministry, which is a key in building in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria as well as in regulation of illegal Arab and Bedouin construction in Israel.
Netanyahu will act as Foreign Minister. He has reserved the post for current Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in case he wins an acquittal in a criminal charge against him.
Moshe Ya’alon will be Defense Minister and Shaul Mofaz and his two-seat Kadima will not be in the coalition, leaving four parties in the government – Likud Beiteinu, Jewish Home, Yesh Atid and Tzipi Livni’s “Movement” party, with a combined total of 68 seats, seven more than a majority.
Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett has mediated a compromise between Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that will enable a new coalition government to be formed, Israeli media reported Wednesday evening.
Lapid’s party apparently hold the position of Minister of Education, in place of Gideon Sa’ar, but Lapid will give up his demand for his party to take over the Interior Ministry, according to the compromise.
Only a few hours before, Lapid and Netanyahu were threatening each other with drastic moves. Lapid said he was ready to sit in the Opposition rater than give up his demands, while the Prime Minister was reported to be ready to ditch Lapid and Bennett and form a government with the Haredi parties and Labor.
Bennett was unhappy with Lapid’s refusal to compromise, and party sources said he was ready to scrap what until now been an iron-tight alliance with Yesh Atid, leaving open the possibility that his party would join the Haredim instead of Labor.
Attorney General Yehudah Weinstein has upheld a deal whereby Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to keep the Foreign Ministry post open for Avigdor Lieberman if he is found not guilty of charges of breach of trust.
Weinstein said the agreement is kosher, only 24 hours after he ordered his assistant to investigate charges by the Ometz government watchdog organization that the deal is illegal. Ometz claimed that the Netanyahu-Lieberman agreement was in fact a coalition deal that needs approval by the Knesset.
Lieberman resigned as his Foreign Minister last December after being indicted on a charge of promoting a former ambassador to Belarus who informed his boss of information concerning a criminal investigation against him.
Ometz argued that besides illegal, the agreement would place Foreign Ministry workers in an awkward position if they have to testify against Lieberman while knowing he may be their boss if he is acquitted. The assistant attorney general answered that government works often have to testify against superiors.
Weinstein’s decision knocks off the table the demand by Future (Yesh Atid) party chairman Yair Lapid to become Foreign Minister. If Lieberman is found guilty, the position will be up for grabs, but that presumably will not happen until after a collation government is finally agreed upon.
Netanyahu has been trying to persuade Lapid to accept the Finance Ministry portfolio, which has proven to be a can of worms for every Finance Minister since Netanyahu himself held the post in the Sharon government and helped turn the economy around.
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein has ordered a probe into the legality of a deal made between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and outgoing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and which may be a key to a future government coalition. Lieberman was promised that he can return to his former Foreign Ministry post if he is found not guilty on charges of breach of trust.
Lieberman resigned from his post in December after an indictment concerning the advancement of former ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben Aryeh, who allegedly leaked to Lieberman classified information about a police investigation concerning Lieberman.
If the deal is ruled illegal, Netanyahu would be off the hook on his promise, but Lieberman could make alternative demands that could throw a monkey wrench into coalition discussions.
Weinstein emphasized that his order of the probe does not imply that he thinks the deal is not legal. He responded to an appeal last month by the government watchdog Ometz to examine the legality of the agreement, which Ometz said is a coalition agreement and therefore needs to be approved by the Knesset.
Ometz asserted in its complaint to the attorney general that foreign ministry workers would have a problem testifying against Lieberman if the post remains open for him to return as their boss.
Aryeh Avery, chairman of Ometz welcomed Weinstein’s decisions and maintained that it “points to a violation of the law.”
He added, “I am asking for immediate intervention and cancellation of the agreement as a necessary step for Netanyahu and Lieberman to uphold the law.
During the current coalition negotiations, Netanyahu has not yet promised the Foreign Minister post to anyone. He agreed to appoint Tzipi Livni Justice Ministry as well as be responsible for the “peace process.”
Future (Yesh Atid) chairman Yair Lapid has reportedly demanded to be Foreign Minister, a request that Netanyahu cannot agree to if he holds by the agreement with Lieberman.
The Canadian Potash fertilizer company is determined to buy Israel’s huge Israel Chemicals Ltd. (despite opposition among lawmakers and employees of the Israeli company.
Over 20 Israeli lawmakers met in Jerusalem Wednesday to discuss the issue, with some voicing strong opposition to the deal, according to Bloomberg.
“The sale of ICL to a foreign company would be abandoning residents of the Negev region and a slap in the face of every citizen of Israel,” Future (Yesh Atid) party lawmaker Meir Cohen was quoted as saying.
Potash Corp is the largest producer of the potash crop nutrient and already owns a 14 percent stake in ICL, which mines chemicals from the Dead Sea and is the world’s sixth-largest producer of potash.
Potash Corp Chief Financial Officer Wayne Brownlee has played down the protests in Israel, saying that “the opposition you’re seeing now is fear of the unknown.” He promised that Potash Corp would not cut production or layoff ICL employees.
Similar promises by other companies carrying out buy-outs frequently have been broken, and Israel Chemicals employees plan to stage protests in coming weeks to try and block the deal.
Yair Lapid, chairman and founder of the Yesh Atid Party, which ended with a surprisingly strong second place finish in the Israeli election Tuesday, had his first and only major appearance in the United States at last year’s convention of the Rabbinical Assembly. In May 2012, Lapid addressed the Atlanta convention of the international umbrella organization for Conservative rabbis.
During his address to the RA, Lapid focused on the need for increased religious pluralism in Israel, as can be seen in this online video excerpt of his remarks.
The full video of
Lapid’s entire remarks is also available. Highlights can be found at the following points:
9:00: “This is really important because I believe that Jewish identity is in danger, and you are the gatekeepers … You are part of the last line of defense that believes that Judaism shouldn’t be the jailhouse of ideas, but the liberator if ideas. Judaism should not be the disintegrator of people but what gets people together. And Judaism shouldn’t be subordinated to small politics because it answers a higher rule.”
19:34: “I’m going to do whatever is necessary, whatever is in my power, to make it feasible to women, Conservative or Reform, to pray at the wailing wall, wearing their prayer shawls.
“Why? Because Israel cannot be the only country in the Western World that has no freedom of religion for Jews. This is just wrong.”
20:20: “I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that there are going to be civil marriages in Israel.
“The total dominance of the Israeli Rabbanut over marriage and divorce in Israel is an insult to every free man. This is just wrong. “I’m going to do everything in my power to ensure the equality of all movements of Judaism in Israel … in conversion, in budgets, in the eyes of the law.”
21:45: “The majority of Israelis are actually Conservative, they just don’t know it. “The majority of Israelis want a pluralistic, sane, welcoming Judaism; they are just not aware of the fact that there is such a thing.”