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Key Knesset budget vote to go down to the wire

Finance Ministry officials held marathon talks on Wednesday with Labor and Meretz MKs and lobby groups ahead of Thursday’s crucial votes in the Knesset on the first readings of the 2021-2022 state budget and its accompanying economic arrangements bill.
Sources in the ministry reported significant progress in resolving differences over a planned agricultural reform, raising the retirement age for women, and a new regulation plan. The Finance Ministry sources said agreements would not be reached on Wednesday but they would in time for the votes on Thursday.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has gotten involved personally to ensure the bill’s advance.

But Labor and Meretz MKs and the women’s and farmers’ lobbies said they would continue fighting for their causes.

Meretz MK Mossy Raz, who participated in the negotiations at the Prime Minister’s Office and the Finance Ministry, said he would not support the regulation plan as it is currently worded. He warned that the plan was dangerous to the environment and public health.

“[Bennett’s] Yamina Party is refusing all compromises and is ready to break up the coalition in order to pass the arrangements bill as is,” Raz complained.

Meretz leadership announced that they support changes to the bill and will support MKs who refuse to support the bill if changes are not made, but called on MKs to continue to negotiate out of a sense of commitment to the coalition.

Cabinet meeting on August 2 where the budget was approved (credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)

Opposition MKs went further in their criticism. Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman called the regulation plan “a monster” and warned that the budget would “trample the weakest sectors of Israeli society.” The Likud said its MKs would battle every clause in the budget and prevent its passage.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu will return from a family vacation in time to attend the vote from a special Knesset gallery created for MKs in quarantine. But Labor leader Merav Michaeli, who is in the US with her son born to a surrogate mother, is not expected to make it back to Israel in time.

The heads of the agricultural lobby said proposals to compensate farmers for the reforms did not go far enough. The lobby released a list of 10 problems with the reform plan that had not yet been resolved.

Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Ram Ben Barak, who represents the agricultural sector in Yesh Atid, has been working on compromises with Agriculture Minister Oded Forer.

Another dispute remains over pension plans for retired senior IDF officers. MKs from multiple coalition parties have said they would vote against the pensions, calling it insensitive to initiate hefty pensions when so many people have lost work due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Blue and White) told Channel 12 on Wednesday night that the pension plans had been misunderstood.

“We lowered the costs and organized it for the future,” Gantz said.

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