JERUSALEM, Israel – One week ago, the headlines in Israel forecast yet another existential threat to the coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
After months of protests by the opposition parties to judicial reform, the debate over the 2023-24 budget presented the next possibility for the government to fall.
Some members of the religious United Torah Judaism Party were unhappy with the allocation process and publicly declared their opposition to the two-year budget plan, which posed a major problem since the coalition could not survive without passing the budget.
After a marathon debate that continued from Monday and Tuesday into Wednesday, however, the Knesset passed the second and third readings of the budget by a 64-55 margin, prompting praise from the prime minister and blistering criticism from the opposition.
Netanyahu said, "This is a dawn of a new day; a good day for Israel's citizens." He was asked if the budget's passage opens the door for more work on judicial reform legislation, and Netanyahu responded, "Certainly. We are trying to reach an understanding and hope that we succeed with that."
He added, "The coalition will be here for four years."
Leaders from the opposition were furious.
Yesh Atid Party chairman Yair Lapid warned, "The coup d'etat will not pass because we are done being Netanyahu's pushovers. We were not surprised by his words because we have no trust in him."
National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz said, "I understand that Netanyahu is once again drunk with power, after passing a budget that will blow up in all of our faces. I remind Netanyahu that stupidity is to repeat the same actions and expect different outcomes."
During the parliamentary debate, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich suggested that the opposition's fiery rhetoric came because they could see that the coalition government was about to clear another hurdle.
"I heard the speeches, and I came to the conclusion – the opposition is in a position," Smotrich said. "When there are no relevant arguments, all that remains is to harm, insult and shout – sometimes even in front of an empty plenary. All this is just to get another headline, that has nothing to do with the facts and without knowing the budget and what is in it."
One NGO, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, petitioned Israel's Supreme Court Wednesday, contending that the budget is illegal.
It appears, though, that with the budget process over for two years, Netanyahu can determine the government's timetable for action on judicial reform, military conscription and other hot button domestic issues, leaving him more free to concentrate on the issue he has always maintained is his government's top priority: preventing a nuclear Iran.