JERUSALEM, Dec. 29 (JTA) — The apparent inability to finalize Israel’s 1998 budget could prove to be the death knell for the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Several Cabinet members urged the prime minister this week to call for early elections rather than capitulate to what they termed the “extortionist” demands of some coalition partners. Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani of The Third Way and Agriculture Minister Rafael Eitan of Tsomet said it was better to call for elections than submit the current budget proposal to the manipulations of coalition members demanding more funds for special interests. Kahalani said his faction would submit legislation to dissolve the Knesset and hold new elections for the lawmakers and prime minister. A majority of the 120-member Knesset would have to approve such legislation for it to pass. Meanwhile, Communications Minister Limor Livnat of Likud appealed to Netanyahu to withdraw the proposed budget and resubmit it by the end of March. The government has until March 31 to pass the budget assuming this week’s deadline for Knesset approval is not met. If the later deadline is missed, the government will fall. The calls by ministers came as coalition partners Gesher and Yisrael Ba’Aliyah continued to condition their support of the budget on a firm commitment from Netanyahu to allocate additional funds for social spending, such as education, development towns, mortgage assistance and rent subsidies. Knesset member Meir Sheetrit of Likud termed the demands “blackmail,” saying they were “outrageous” and “unprecedented.” Finance Minister Ya’acov Ne’eman was reported to be considering resigning if the budget framework is broken. Ne’eman said he would not cave in to what he termed “sectored interests.” In the Knesset, the rebellious coalition members continued to hold out against the government, causing it to lose several votes to the opposition on portions of the budget bill. Netanyahu, who has been holding marathon talks with the upstart factions, said Monday that he believed the coalition would fall into line by Wednesday’s deadline. On the diplomatic front, it remains to be seen what impact a failure to pass the budget would have on negotiations with the Palestinians. Netanyahu was reportedly given a three-week reprieve by the United States until mid-January to enable him to pass a budget before coming forward with a proposal for redeployment in the West Bank. The extension was issued out of concern that hard-line members of Netanyahu’s coalition would turn the budget vote into a no-confidence motion if the prime minister announced any specific plan for a pullback before the budget was passed. Indeed, Likud Knesset member Ze’ev “Benny” Begin said over the weekend that he planned to abstain in the budget vote because he believed the bill’s defeat could delay Netanyahu from presenting the specifics of a further redeployment.
Netanyahu faces rebellion amid ongoing budget debate