Netanyahu calls for early elections

Benjamin Netanyahu

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered new parliamentary elections for early 2013, eight months ahead of the full term, according to several major news sources.

Netanyahu, in office since 2009, ordered the elections “as soon as possible” because “his coalition could not agree on a budget,” according to the New York Times. A February timetable is most likely, reports the Jerusalem Post, but if Knesset is dissolved by October 15, then January 15 is the earliest date for possible elections.

While Netanyahu based his call on the budget deal deadlock, he reportedly believes that he would be in a strong position to increase his majority in his Likud Party-led coalition. 

Re-election could enable him to continue his tough stance toward Iran’s suspected nuclear program, put the already deadlocked peace process with the Palestinians further into deep freeze and complicate relations with the United States if President Barack Obama is re-elected, according to the New York Times.

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

Netanyahu called a televised press conference Tuesday night to announce his call for early elections after he had come to the conclusion that the current Knesset “would not be possible to pass a budget.”

Likud sources told the Jerusalem Post that Netanyahu would hold elections earlier than scheduled in order to “catch his opponents off guard and to minimize damage to the economy.” 

Netanyahu said in remarks at the news conference that during the global economic crisis, Israel had been able to maintain a strong economy and a low level of unemployment.  He said that a “responsible budget” was needed in the face of economic and security challenges.  He took note of his role in maintaining security and blocking terrorist attacks for the most part during his tenure.

The prime minister received support for early elections from Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich, who said they were needed to end the “unstable and unhealthy” condition of the state.

Zehava Gal-On, leader of the left-leaning Meretz Party, issued a statement reported by the Jerusalem Post that said “it is time for Netanyahu to redeem the citizens of Israel from his authority.  The time has come for a government of the left.”

Opinion polls show that Netanyahu has high approval ratings with no serious political opponents who can challenge him on the horizon.  He indicate that it would be “preferable to have as short a campaign as possible” and to hold the vote in the minimum three months, according to the New York Times.