Israel parliament set to approve amended 2024 budget to fund Gaza war

By Thomson Reuters Mar 13, 2024 | 6:51 AM

By Steven Scheer

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli lawmakers were set to give their final approval on Wednesday to an amended 2024 state budget that adds tens of billions of shekels to fund Israel’s war against the Islamist Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza.

The amended budget envisages more spending on defence and compensation to households and businesses hurt by the conflict, which is now approaching 160 days since Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

Members of the Knesset, or parliament, have resumed debate on the spending package of 584 billion shekels ($160 billion), or 724 billion including debt repayment. The plan also includes higher allocations for health, education, police and welfare.

The budget requires three rounds of voting to become law. The Knesset gave its initial approval a month ago and the second and third rounds are expected on Wednesday or early on Thursday, depending on the length of the debate, which is often rowdy.

The budget envisages a deficit of 6.6% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2024, revised from a pre-war level of 2.25%.

In February, the deficit rose to 5.6% over the previous 12 months from 4.8% in January.

Israel last year approved a two-year budget for 2023 and 2024, but the Gaza war has shaken up government finances, requiring budget changes and additional spending.

The budget has become politically charged, in particular over payments Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed under a 2022 coalition accord with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and the heads of other religious parties.

Despite calls by the central bank and opposition lawmakers to cut spending not related to the war, most of the so-called coalition funds will still be allocated. However, there will be some tax hikes this year on cigarettes and tobacco products and on bank profits.

Moody’s last month downgraded Israel’s credit rating to A2, citing material political and fiscal risks for the country stemming from the war. It was the first time that Israel’s rating has ever been cut.

($1 = 3.6483 shekels)

(Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Gareth Jones)