JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel's parliament passed the 2023-2024 national budget on Wednesday, gaining Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a political reprieve following months of protests against his religious-nationalist coalition's judicial overhaul plans.
With the two-year spending package clinched, Netanyahu sounded upbeat about the legislation that would limit some Supreme Court powers, which he put on hold in March to allow for so-far fruitless compromise talks with the opposition.
"A new day dawns," he told Channel 14 TV after mustering the coalition's 64-to-56 majority for a speedy Knesset ratification. The budget earmarks 484 billion shekels ($131 billion) for this year and 514 billion shekels ($139 billion) for the next.
Asked if the judicial reforms were now back on the agenda, Netanyahu said: "Certainly. But we are trying to reach understandings (in the compromise talks). I hope we will succeed in that."
He also pledged to tackle inflation, an economic headache that had been compounded by investor flight and dampened growth prospects linked to the domestic furore over the reforms.
The budget had drawn criticism even from the government's own budget division for increasing funding to schools and seminaries serving the growing ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, a series of steps it warned would encourage joblessness.
Centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid denounced the budget as "a breach of contract with Israel's citizens, which all of us - and our children and children's children - will yet pay for".
Others in the opposition were equally outraged by hundreds of millions of shekels going toward Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which Palestinians want as the core of a future state. Critics said such spending comes at the expense of wider Israeli interests.
Netanyahu said the judicial overhaul would restore balance between the branches of government and rein in court overreach. Critics fear the veteran premier, who is under trial on graft charges that he denies, seeks to curb judicial independence.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Elaine Hardcastle)