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Israeli parliament passes budget, avoids government collapse

Israeli President-elect Isaac Herzog, Chairman of the Knesset Mickey Levy and outgoing Israeli President Reuven Rivlin attend a swearing-in ceremony at the Knesset, Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem July 7, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israel’s parliament has passed a long-awaited key national budget before a deadline that would have triggered fresh elections.

A marathon overnight vote on hundreds of amendments resulted early on Thursday in the approval of the budget bills for the first time in three years.

The failure to reach consensus by November 14 would have brought down the government of Naftali Bennett that was sworn in in June, giving former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an opportunity for re-election.

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”.

Bennett and Netanyahu had opened the overnight voting session on Wednesday by delivering speeches attacking one another.

The government elected in June is a broad coalition of eight parties united by the desire to unseat Netanyahu, who led the country for a total of 15 years. It has a razor-thin margin of 61 seats in the 120-member assembly.

Israel entered a prolonged political crisis after elections in April 2019, when a right-wing party that had been allied with Netanyahu refused to sit in a government with him while he faced criminal indictments.

The next two years saw four successive deadlocked elections, and a parliament dissolved in 2020 because it failed to pass a budget.

Bennett, who leads the ultranationalist Yamina (Rightwards) party, has opposed Palestinian statehood and has ruled out formal peace talks with the Palestinian Authority during his tenure, saying he preferred to focus on economic improvements.

Israel this week advanced plans to build more than 1,300 homes for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, days after endorsing more than 3,000 homes in illegal settlements.

Twelve European countries urged Israel to “reverse” its plans, saying settlement expansion “undermines efforts for the two-state solution”.

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