The Cabinet meeting this evening is expected to approve the changes to the 2023 budget in the wake of the war. Ahead of the vote there has been a struggle between the National Unity party headed by Benny Gantz and Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich.
A source close to Gantz says, "At a time when hundreds of thousands of people are in the reserves (in uniform and civilians), entire industries are shut down, many have been put on unpaid leave, and the fiscal deficit is widening, you have to demonstrate a personal example. Raising the budget for yeshivas by NIS 500 million, a budget of over NIS 400 million for the Ministry of National Missions whose mission is not clear and raising teachers' salaries in the New Horizon program that is not based on the education system by 40% instead of the 14% we agreed on - are a finger poked in the public's eye."
But despite the anger and intention to vote against the budget, gantz won't bring down the government but will try to fight against it during Knesset legislation. Changing the budget will require three readings in the Knesset plenum and it is unlikely that the National Unity party will bring down the government over the budget because they joined the government to support the war effort. Instead they will try to oppose the budget in the Knesset by gaining the support of "courageous Likud MKs).
At the heart of the dispute is coalition funds, mainly for Haredi educational NGOs and settlements in Judea and Samaria. Smotrich has proposed cutting NIS 1.6 billion of these funds from the 2023 budget while the Ministry of Finance budgets department wants to cut NIS 2.5 billion. Smotrich has so far not spoken about the 2024 budget.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also in effect rejected Gantz's request and this could lead the government in its current format into a deadlock.
The Prime Minister's Office said, "We will bring to the cabinet an unprecedented budget of NIS 30 billion for a month and a half, which meets the needs of the war." Regarding the coalition funds, Netanyahu said: "We have already cut more than 70% of the coalition funds, NIS 1.6 billion, and what is left is intended for civilian needs such as teachers' salaries, and not for any political use. The political debate is about 1% of the total budget.'
1% of the total budget is a significant amount, and in practice it is about NIS 900 million. While Smotrich is interested in a NIS 1.6 billion cut from the coalition funds for 2023, Gantz is interested in a much more extensive cut of NIS 2.5 billion.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on November 27, 2023.
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.