Four months ago, Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid shook hands, rolled up their sleeves, and managed to bring together a very unlikely coalition of parties to form the first post-Netanyahu government in 12 years. Hardly anyone in Israel thought the new “unity” government stood much of a chance. The views between the eight parties in the coalition are extreme—Islamists are alongside staunch pro-Israel/anti- “2 State Solution” members…and as always in Israeli politics, tempers and passions run high!
However, as I shared in June, I saw something special in this unlikely group—teamwork. In 35 years of watching Israeli politics, I have never seen more unity and a team mentality in a coalition. Netanyahu has done everything he can to topple the new government (even voting against legislation he was for, just to embarrass them), but he is only causing frustration in his own party—many who are realizing that the only reason their Likud is not leading the Knesset is displayed in all the bridges Bibi has burned.
Yet here we are. Prime Minister Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid have turned out to be quite the dynamic duo of Israel. Lapid has been on the road much of the time, opening one new Israeli embassy after another in neighboring Muslim nations.
Bennett has spoken before the UN, challenged Iran, bonded with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and brought Israel to the table as a major player among world leaders at the Climate Summit. And despite all the gloom and doom naysayers, Bennett and his team have COVID on the run without shutting down the economy yet again.
It is all about the Budget
And this week, the fledgling unity government remains strong as it cleared a huge hurdle, getting a 2021 and a 2022 budget passed by the Knesset. Israel has not had a new budget in three and half years, and failure on this issue would have meant the dissolution of the government and a fifth trip to the polls for election-weary Israelis. But the unity government is surprising everyone, overcoming internal disagreements and withstanding a barrage of attacks from the opposition.
The only reason there is a new government is because Netanyahu chose to dissolve his unity government with Benny Gantz rather than pass a budget. He knew that if a budget was passed, he would legally have to allow Gantz to be prime minister on November 21—which would have been now! In the end, he lost complete control, something he never dreamed would happen.
Speaking from the Knesset podium Wednesday night, Bennett said passing the budget was “the most important moment since the government was formed.” Members of the Knesset (MKs) pulled an all-night session, arguing and debating the 2021 $194 billion budget, and at 5 a.m. Thursday morning, the bill was passed 61-59 (along party lines).
Bennett tweeted this is a “day of celebration for the State of Israel. After years of chaos — we have created a government, overcame the Delta variant, and now, thank God, we passed a budget for Israel! Continuing forward at full strength,” he wrote.
On Thursday, progress continued as MKs approved the Arrangements Law, which spells out how the money will be disbursed.
Throughout the two-day process, several opposition bills were introduced, but all failed. Netanyahu (supposedly accidentally) actually voted with the coalition (instead of his own opposition side) four times on the opposing bills.
In all, there were hundreds of votes through Wednesday and Thursday, and the unity coalition stood resolute. Earlier, Bennett predicted a “780-0” record for the coalition, referencing how many times there would be a vote before the entire budget package is approved. Yes, they had to vote 780 times to pass the whole budget!
The 2022 budget package is $183 billion includes some massive reforms (perhaps the most controversial is concerning the iron grip that the Orthodox have on the food supply with kosher rules), as well as funds to improve transportation around Tel Aviv, increase the retirement age for women, new import reforms, additional funding for the military, and more.
The unity government technically had until November 14 to get the budget passed. Getting done this earlier, without posturing and horse-trading, was completely unexpected.