This has not happened in years: as of Thursday night, no agenda has been set for Sunday’s upcoming cabinet meeting, and to go by Israeli media outlets, no agenda will be set ahead of the meeting. The reason is a mutual veto imposed by both leading parties, Likud and Blue&White.
The crisis began when Blue&White insisted on applying the coalition bylaws both parties signed, so that agenda items can only be introduced with both parties’ agreements. This was supposed to happen some 80 days ago, but Likud has been sluggish in putting in the agenda items section as an agenda item. The reason Likud is not crazy about implementing the deal they signed is that this gives Netanyahu the upper hand in deciding whether and when to bring the next budget to a cabinet debate.
So now there’s a stalemate, and as a result, no item was placed on the agenda, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis and the acute economic crisis which require immediate action on the part of all government ministers. To remind you, the only reason Netanyahu and Gantz have agreed to join together in a coalition government was in order to steer the ship of state out of the health and economy crises. This is the clearest expression so far of the crisis in this coalition, which is taking place less than three weeks before the imminent dispersal of the Knesset should a budget not pass.
Meanwhile, according to News12, Netanyahu has acquired the services of one of Israel’s leading experts on campaign strategy, Moshe Klughaft, which is tantamount to the captain of the good ship Elections calling Anchors aweigh.
Against this background of mistrust and disagreement, no budget and the danger that all this craziness would lead to new elections, this week the heads of the Haredi parties, Moshe Gafni, Yaakov Litzman and Aryeh Deri, met separately with Netanyahu and Ganz and warned them in no uncertain terms that they would never support a vote to disperse the Knesset, and that a state budget must be passed, or else. By which they meant that all bets are off in a new election, don’t count on our recommending either one of you to the President.
“Israeli citizens are currently facing difficult health and economic problems,” the three Haredi leaders said, adding that “the very thought of going to an election at this time is utter madness. This is a time to put aside all other issues and bring about an emergency approval of the state budget, so that we can focus on the challenges of the economy and the health system, in the face of the corona crisis that afflicts the citizens of Israel and the whole world.”
“We will not cooperate with any initiative to bring early elections and we will do everything to prevent elections,” Gafni, Litzman and Deri vowed.
They also noted that they, the Haredim, had nothing to worry about – their 16-17 seats are secure. It’s Likud which is sinking in the polls like a stack of Jabotinsky biographies in free fall; and it’s Blue&White which is struggling to hold on to their double-digit power.
The controversy over the budget revolves around Netanyahu’s demand to pass an annual budget, contrary to the coalition agreement between the Likud and Blue&White that specifies a biennial budget, which, Likud says, would inevitably bring about painful cuts the citizenry cannot sustain at this point.
It’s a painful point: in 2019, then Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (who is mercifully gone from politics) was chastised for trying to hide a NIS 4 billion deficit in 2019 – that’s a little over $1 billion. Legally, the Israeli government is only permitted a budget deficit of about NIS 2 billion.
Currently, with a million unemployed and production at a standstill, plus all the financial support being doled out, it is estimated that the budget deficit stands on NIS 70 billion ($21 billion). The country will have to deal with it, because, quite clearly, the next rating it receives from S&P will not be very forgiving.