Israel spared fifth snap election as lawmakers pass budget

AP , Thursday 4 Nov 2021

Israel's parliament passed a national budget for the first time in three years early on Thursday, avoiding a November deadline that would have brought down the new government and triggered another election.

Israeli lawmakers in knesset
Israeli lawmakers on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, are set to begin marathon voting to try and pass the first national budget in three years.

The marathon overnight voting on budget bills in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, was a major hurdle for the new government headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, whose fractious coalition holds a narrow majority.

Failure to pass the budget by Nov. 14 would have brought down the government that was sworn into office in June and triggered a fifth election in barely three years, giving former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an opportunity to return to power.

Bennett celebrated on Twitter, writing that ``after years of chaos -- we formed a government, we overcame the delta variant, and now, thank God, we passed a budget for Israel.''

The Knesset began voting on a series of budget bills, including hundreds of amendments, late on Wednesday. The assembly opened with Bennett and Netanyahu delivering speeches attacking one another.

Netanyahu's allies repeatedly heckled and interrupted Bennett. Unruly scenes continued. At one point, a lawmaker from Netanyahu's Likud party was escorted out after calling the parliament speaker a ``floor rag,`` and an ultra-Orthodox lawmaker was removed after meowing like a cat.

As the opposition sought to drag the vote out into the early hours of the morning, coalition whip Idit Silman distributed candy to keep lawmakers alert.

Early Thursday morning, the Knesset voted 61-59 in favor of a 2021 budget bill, the first approved by parliament since 2018. Later, parliament approved a bundle of new laws, including a congestion tax for the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, eased import regulations and approved a higher retirement age for women. It also backed reforms on kosher certification that have outraged ultra-Orthodox lawmakers.

A vote on a 2022 budget was scheduled to take place later on Thursday.

On the opposite side of the aisle, Israel Katz, Israel's former finance minister under Netanyahu, blasted the ``terrible budget of cutbacks and taxes`` in an Army Radio interview.

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