Cabinet Passes Controversial Wartime Spending Package
JERUSALEM – Israel’s cabinet has approved a controversial revised national budget for 2024 that includes a massive $15 billion increase in defense spending to fund the ongoing military campaign against Palestinian militants in Gaza.
The budget boost, which raises the expected deficit to 4.9% of GDP from 3.9%, triggered intense debate within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government. Several key ministers fiercely opposed the proposal before it ultimately passed by a narrow 10-9 margin after a stormy midday meeting.
“This was not an easy decision, but a necessary one to ensure the safety and security of the Israeli people during this difficult time,” Netanyahu said in a statement after the vote. “The soldiers at the front lines defending our country deserve our full support.”
Steep Cuts Across Civilian Ministries Fund War Chest
To offset the $15 billion influx to the defense establishment, the revision calls for steep cuts totaling around $5 billion across most civilian government ministries.
The Ministry of Health will see its budget diminished by over $800 million, forcing the closure of several hospitals. Welfare and social service programs face a $750 million reduction. Environment and education budgets will shrink by nearly $500 million each.
|Welfare & Social Services
These austerity measures provoked outrage from advocates, who argue the government is abandoning vulnerable citizens to bankroll the military campaign.
Fierce Cabinet Infighting Over Spending Plan
The debate over wartime budget priorities has intensified rifts within Netanyahu’s fragile coalition. Several key partners vocally condemned the proposal during Sunday’s contentious 12-hour cabinet session.
Interior Minister Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionism party, blasted the cuts to health and social services as “immoral and irresponsible.” Centrist MP Michael Biton echoed these sentiments, charging that the plan “forsakes struggling Israelis when they need assistance most.”
Environment Minister Tamar Zandberg ultimately resigned her post in protest. “I cannot, in good conscience, remain part of a government that strips essential resources from citizens to prolong war,” she said, storming out of the cabinet meeting.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant sought to justify the heightened defense allocation. “We are waging a defensive campaign to eliminate the threat of terror tunnels and rocket fire threatening Israelis,” he said. “We did not choose war, but we will do what it takes to win.”
Uncertain Path Ahead After Razor-Thin Approval
The tense budget debate spotlighted the deep fissures threatening the survival of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, which holds a razor-thin one-seat margin in parliament. Several disgruntled cabinet officials have hinted they may withdraw support in upcoming key votes, which could force early elections.
Moreover, the budget’s passage provides only temporary fiscal clarity amid economic headwinds from the Gaza conflict. The defense funding is projected to sustain military operations for 6-9 more months. But with both sides refusing concessions, there is still no end in sight for the war.
If the fighting drags on, Netanyahu may be forced to bring another wartime budget to parliament in 2nd half of 2024. This could set off a fresh round of infighting within the fragile coalition.
With national unity fraying, international mediators are attempting to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants. But tensions remain extremely high, and the budget leaves open the prospect of many more months of bloody trench warfare in Gaza.
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