|Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, Israel, Oct. 9, 2012. After a four-year tenure, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday announced that early general elections would be held as early as possible in the beginning of next year, but did not specify an exact date. (Xinhua/Jini)
JERUSALEM, Oct. 9 (Xinhua) -- After a nearly four-year tenure, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday announced that new general elections would be held "as soon as possible," but did not specify an exact date.
Netanyahu, who made the announcement during a prime time press conference, decided to go to early elections after failing to achieve a majority within his 66-seat coalition to pass next year' s budget.
"Today, I finished a round of consultations with the heads of the coalition parties and I came to the conclusion that it is not possible at this time to pass a responsible budget," said Netanyahu in his nationally televised speech.
"We are on the threshold of an election year, and to my regret, in an election year it is difficult for parties to place the national interest ahead of the party interest," he said. "The result of this is liable to be a budgetary breach and a massive increase in the deficit, which would very quickly put us in the situation of the crumbling economies of Europe. I will not allow this to happen here."
Citing the upheaval in the Middle East and the ongoing global economic crisis as two major challenges facing Israel, Netanyahu said "my obligation as prime minister is to put the national interest above everything and therefore, I have decided that the good of the State of Israel requires going to elections now, as soon as possible."
Hinting that the elections would be held within three months, Netanyahu said "the State of Israel would prefer a short election campaign of three months" as a long election campaign that would continue for an entire year would "severely damage the Israeli economy."
Affected by the debt crisis in Europe, a main market for Israel 's exports, Israel's economy has showed signs of slowdown this year.
After delivering the short statement, Netanyahu, leader of the ruling Likud party, did not take questions from reporters and then left the podium.
According to local media, Netanyahu had already met with President Shimon Peres, Knesset (parliament) Speaker Reuven Rivlin, and expressed his desire to disperse the legislature and go to early elections, in previous days.
Local political analysts suggest that the prime minister is trying to take advantage of his party's good standing in the polls and would like to prevent his numerous political rivals from gathering electoral momentum.
The debate regarding the budget proposal, which called for a NIS 14 billion (3.5 billion U.S. dollars) worth of cuts in government ministries, kicked into high gear in recent weeks, as Netanyahu met with various coalition members in trying to get a majority for it.
The suggested cuts are part of Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz's austerity plan, set to fight Israel's slowing economy and low tax revenues, in hopes of reaching a three-percent of the GDP deficit target.
The main issue at the heart of the budget discussion in recent weeks is how to squeeze between NIS 13 and 15 billion (3.23-3.73 billion dollars) worth of cuts to the ministry spending.
The cuts will slash funding for education and infrastructure and are expected to stir up a significant public opposition. They are also vehemently opposed by ultra-orthodox parties.
Political analysts believe the ultra-Orthodox parties' refusal to accept budget cuts stems from needs of their electorate, many of whom are elderly, and include households of large or single- parent families, and the poor.
They believe that Netanyahu will try to place the blame on Shas, one of the ultra-Orthodox parties, for opposing the budget.
The Knesset, which is currently on hiatus, is scheduled to embark on its winter session on Oct. 15. If the elections are moved forward, then the Knesset will be dissolved on Oct. 15, and the earliest possible date to hold a new elections would be Jan. 15 of 2013.
The mandate of the current government ends at the end of 2013 and the general elections were originally scheduled to take place in October 2013.
Israel's opposition leaders gave mixed reaction to Netanyahu's call for early elections.
Kadima party leader Shaul Mofaz told Israel's Channel 2 television that it is expected of his party to replace Netanyahu. Mofaz also stressed that he is the "candidate with the biggest experience."
Meanwhile, former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni said Netanyahu "has made Israel isolated and withdrawn" from the world. She added on her Facebook page that the people of Israel will have to choose their path again.
"What happened to Netanyahu that he had to go to the polls because the system did not allow him to pass a budget," Israeli television pundit-turned-politician Yair Lapid from the Yesh Atid party told Channel 2.
Labor party leader Shelly Yehimovich applauded the move, saying that she may ask Livni, who lost Kadima's leadership to Mofaz in March, to join her party for the next elections.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, also welcomed Netanyahu's decision and argued that it was expected and that his party would never support cuts in the general budget.
"Shas would not support a budget that tramples the middle class and the poor," Yishai said.