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Israel-Palestine war: Fractures emerge in Israeli coalition over non-military expenditure

Minister Benny Gantz threatens to vote against end-of-year budget over spending plans proposed by far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and cabinet minister Benny Gantz attend a press conference in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv on 28 October 2023 (AFP)

Cracks have begun to emerge in Israel's wartime coalition after minister Benny Gantz said his party would vote against planned budget changes.

In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Gantz outlined his opposition to plans by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich to funnel extra expenditure into religious schools and settlements in the occupied West Bank.

“We will oppose disbursing coalition funds or any additional budget that is not connected to the war effort or advancing economic growth,” he wrote.

The current government formed in the wake of the 7 October attack by Hamas in southern Israel that left 1,200 Israelis dead and saw 240 people taken hostage.

Gantz, an erstwhile opponent of Netanyahu, joined a "war cabinet" intended to show national unity in the wake of the Hamas attack.

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However, a leaked report on the 2023 end-of-year budget has revealed an increase in funding for yeshivas by $133m, as well as allocating $107m to the National Missions Ministry, which is run by Smotrich’s far-right party.

Gantz's party has described the budget, which also triples an agreed-upon increase to private ultra-Orthodox school salaries, as “a finger in the public’s eye".

A source from the party, quoted by the Times of Israel, said Gantz supported “proper education” and budgeting security for West Bank settlements, but “this is not what is being presented to the government today".

Netanyahu's office has dismissed criticism of the budget, which it said would be brought to a vote on Monday, saying the "political argument is about one percent of the total budget".

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