Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett voiced confidence Wednesday that his ideologically disparate government will pass the first state budget in three years.
The eight-party coalition has until November 14 to get the budget approved or Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, will be dissolved, forcing new elections.
“We are at the finish line and before us are exhausting days and long nights in the Knesset, but the budget will pass,” Bennett said ahead of a cabinet meeting Thursday.
The government has proposed a 609 billion shekel ($194 billion) spending plan for 2021 and 573 billion shekels for next year.
Israel endured its worst-ever political crisis from December 2018 until June this year, when the Bennett coalition was sworn in. The period saw four elections with no state budgets approved.
Bennett’s government secured preliminary approval for a spending package in September, a technical step that allowed Knesset committees to scrutinise the proposals.
The committees are due to wrap up their reviews on Wednesday evening, when voting could commence, although the process may take several days.
Bennett told lawmakers that “passing the budget should be treated as the biggest, only challenge in the next few days.
“This is the mission, and we need to meet it.”
Netanyahu seeks ‘collapse’
Bennett’s government — which includes right-wingers, centrists, doves and Islamists — controls just 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.
It was a budget deadlock that sank the last, short-lived coalition led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his alternate premier Benny Gantz.
Gantz accused Netanyahu of deliberately blocking the budget’s passage to force an election, which the premier hoped would secure him and his right-wing allies an outright Knesset majority.
But Netanyahu came up short in the March vote, for the fourth time in two years, paving the way for Bennett and Yair Lapid, now the foreign minister, to forge a coalition.
There have been widespread reports that Netanyahu, now the opposition leader, has been encouraging hawks within the government to vote against the budget, in hopes of triggering its collapse.
On Tuesday night, hundreds of right-wing protestors gathered in Tel Aviv to denounce the “corrupt” budget, charging that it harms ultra-Orthodox Jews and lavishes spending on the Arab community.
The government recently approved nearly $10 billion in funding over five years to improve socio-economic conditions for Israel’s Arab minority, while hiking some taxes which the ultra-Orthodox argued will affect them the most.