Election turmoil plunges Israel into budget crisis

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting of the right-wing bloc at the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in Jerusalem on November 20, 2019. (AFP)
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Israeli Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) political alliance leader and retired General Benny Gantz, gives a statement ahead of a midnight deadline in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on November 20, 2019.(AFP)
Updated 21 November 2019

Election turmoil plunges Israel into budget crisis

  • Israel's political stalemate has lasted a year
  • No state budget means no new spending in 2020

JERUSALEM: With the prospect of a third election in Israel in less than a year, it will be well into 2020 before a new budget is passed, triggering months of cutbacks that will weigh on economic growth.
The Israeli economy has so far weathered two inconclusive ballots and a year of successive caretaker governments that were restricted from making any big decisions, from tax reforms to court appointments.
But it cannot escape the impact of no budget. Government ministries will automatically revert to their 2019 monthly allocations without an increase, making it harder to commission new roads, pay contractors and cover a growing deficit.
"Coping with it will not only affect government offices, but also the entire economy," the accountant general told a concerned parliamentary finance committee this week.
He offered the gloomy outlook as it became clear that neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his rival, Benny Gantz, had enough support in parliament to form a government.
With both politicians coming up short, there now begins a 21-day period in which Israeli lawmakers can nominate any one of the Knesset's 120 lawmakers to try and establish a coalition.
If that fails too, an election is triggered within 90 days, raising the prospect for a weary electorate of going back to the polls after votes in April and September.
"There is absolute chaos in all the government ministries. That's what happens when you don't have a budget. And if they really do announce elections - it becomes a nightmare," said Amir Fuchs, a legal expert at the Israel Democracy Institute.
Defence contractors are already seeing government payments being frozen, according to an industry source. New road and rail projects, critical to ease traffic congestion, are expected to be put on hold.
"Purchases by ministries will all slow and some will even come to a halt," said Jonathan Katz, Leader Capital Markets' chief economist.

LOST OPPORTUNITIES
Uncertainty aside, the shekel remains one of the strongest currencies in the world and economic growth was a robust 4.1% in the third quarter, initial estimates showed this week. But risks have grown over the past year.
Israel's budget deficit is projected to swell to close to 4% in 2019 from 2.9% in 2018, and new taxes and spending cuts are needed to rein it in before it impacts the country's credit rating.
Government officials promised to boost investments in public transport and competition in the workforce to keep steam in the economy, but most plans have come to a standstill.
"The main issue is that of lost opportunities. More specifically, the opportunity to make much needed structural changes in the economy," said Bank Leumi chief economist Gil Bufman.
The OECD on Thursday cut its economic growth forecast for Israel to 2.9% in 2020, from a previous estimate of 3.3%, and forecast a similar rate in 2021.
It blamed the global slowdown, but also noted that "intensifying structural reforms...is crucial to lower the large social disparities and boost productivity".
The OECD also called for tax reform to increase revenue, something impossible without a government in place.
The Bank of Israel is expected to cut its key interest rate next week for the first time since 2015, with most economists polled by Reuters citing the global slowdown and an over-appreciation in the shekel.

Related


Iran’s threat to destroy Tel Aviv from Lebanon condemned

Updated 11 December 2019

Iran’s threat to destroy Tel Aviv from Lebanon condemned

  • Lebanon is not an arena for external use by any country, says information minister

BEIRUT: A statement by a senior commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has triggered a series of condemnations in Lebanon, after he claimed the country could be used for military strikes.

Maj. Gen. Morteza Qorbani told Mizan News: “If the Zionist regime makes the smallest mistake toward Iran, we will reduce Tel Aviv to ashes from Lebanon,” according to Russia Today, adding he claimed his words were “a response to Israeli statements about launching military action against Tehran.”

“Iran is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons and Israel is too small to make any mistake toward Iran. If the Supreme Leader orders a missile attack against Israel, all Zionists will raise their hands and surrender. 

“The hearts and souls of the people of Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq are with Iran, and the recent events in Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran aim to strike the unity of the resistance front, including the Islamic Republic.”

In response to the statement, Lebanon’s Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab said: “If what is attributed to (Qorbani) is correct, it is unacceptable and it is a violation of the sovereignty of Lebanon, which has a relationship of friendship with Iran.”

The minister, who belongs to the Free Patriotic Movement allied to Hezbollah, stressed: “The independence of the Lebanese must not be affected in any way.”

Farid Al-Bustani, a member of the parliamentary bloc affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement, said: “If this is true, it is a violation of the sovereignty of Lebanon on the one hand and the status and immunity of the resistance on the other.”

FASTFACTS

● Iran’s Gen. Morteza Qorbani told Mizan News: ‘If the Zionist regime makes the smallest mistake toward Iran, we will reduce Tel Aviv to ashes from Lebanon.’

● Lebanon’s Minister of Information Jamal Al-Jarrah described the words as ‘irresponsible and arrogant, constituting an affront to the sovereignty of Lebanon, the people and the state.’

Minister of Information Jamal Al-Jarrah described the words as “irresponsible and arrogant, constituting an affront to the sovereignty of Lebanon, the people and the state.

“Iran can defend itself however it wants, but Lebanon is not a mailbox for the IRGC and is not an arena for external use by any country. These words are completely unacceptable.”

The president of the Independence Movement, Michel Moawad, criticized Qorbani’s statement, while member of Parliament Nadim Gemayel demanded a “clear position on these words from Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, President of the Republic Michel Aoun and from (Prime Minister) Saad Hariri.”

Hezbollah’s Ibrahim Al-Moussawi tweeted: “In light of the enemy’s (Israeli) occupation of Palestine, parts of Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, the threat against Egypt, and the Zionist appetite open to our oil, gas and water, any call to neutrality is misleading and suspicious, and it is a betrayal of the homeland, right and justice, and meets the enemy’s goals intentionally or unintentionally.

“Neutrality is at best a delusion and at its worst is treachery. Reject it.”