Israel seeks budget pass in major test for new government

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli lawmakers are expected to start a marathon vote on Wednesday to try to pass the first national budget in three years, a major test for the coalition government that was sworn in earlier this year after four contentious elections.

Failure to pass the budget by November 14 would result in the downfall of the government and trigger a new election, giving former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu his best opportunity to quickly return to power.

The coalition comprises eight parties from all political backgrounds and has a very narrow margin of 61 seats in the 120-member assembly. If Netanyahu and his allies can eliminate a single defector, the budget could fail, but most expect him to do so, if only because the coalition is firmly united against him.

“The moment the budget is passed it buys the stability of the government for several years, and what it means for the opposition is disintegration,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said earlier this week. “They desperately want to reverse the budget and get us to a fifth election, that’s their goal.”

The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is expected to start voting on hundreds of amendments in a marathon session leading up to the final vote on Thursday or Friday. The government has given itself a 10-day window before the strict deadline in case there are any surprises.

Israel entered a protracted political crisis after the April 2019 elections, when a right-wing party that had been allied with Netanyahu refused to sit in a government with him. The next two years brought three more hotly contested elections with no clear winner, as well as indicting Netanyahu on serious corruption charges, which he denies.

The government formed in June includes parties from all political stripes united by little more than a desire to avoid another Netanyahu-led government or other elections. But the fragile coalition is set to extend its rule considerably if it passes the budget.

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