09.14.12, 08:14–Whether or not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls for early elections is a toss-up, according to Israel’s finance minister, who said he did not expect to deliver a budget until early October.
The budget is the political arena in which Netanyahu will see if his thin majority in the Israeli Knesset, which includes ultra-orthodox religious parties, can agree on spending priorities for 2013.
Asked if elections will be called early, Steinitz replied: “I don’t know. 50/50%.” A national ballot is due in late 2013.
“I think we will know with some certainty after Sukkot,” which begins the evening of September 30. “We will finally know if the coalition is strong enough to deliver the 2013 budget,” Steinitz said on Monday on the sidelines of an Israeli investment conference co-sponsored by The Wall Street Journal and its sister publication, Barron’s.
Sukkot, the Jewish festival commemorating the Jews’ Biblical wanderings in the wilderness, ends October 7.
Steinitz highlighted the prime minister’s victory in July, when the cabinet approved a package of tax hikes and spending cuts aimed at reining in the nation’s budget deficit by a vote of 20-9.
Netanyahu has been under pressure from Israel’s central bank to maintain fiscal credibility at a time when the economy is slowing and tax revenues are falling short.
The ultra-Orthodox Shas and centrist Independence parties, two of the five coalition partners, voted against the austerity package.
Steinitz said his office is prepared to present a budget on time, which historically means sometime in September or October in order to get it cleared for the January 1 start to the fiscal year.
Officially, he said, the budget calls for NIS 14 billion (about $3.5 billion) worth of cuts in order to reach a 3% of GDP deficit target. The figure could be smaller, perhaps NIS 10 billion ($2.5 billion), he said.
“We know that all our coalition partners are telling us that they would like to support the new budget, although it is difficult. But we want more than that,” Steinitz said.
“We want them to guarantee that they don’t desert us in the middle of the process, that if they support the budget in the government that they support it through the Knesset,” he said.
Netanyahu’s governing coalition holds a slim 66 seats in the 120 seat Knesset after the centrist Kadima party bolted in July after two months of partnership when its leader accused Netanyahu of giving in to ultra-Orthodox Jews in a battle over military conscription…Read More>>