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Netanyahu calls early election for Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu briefs the press on his election announcement in Jerusalem on October 9, 2012.

Story highlights

  • Israel needs a "responsible budget with a long-term outlook," Netanyahu says
  • A general election should take place as soon as possible, the prime minister says
  • Netanyahu says the election will help Israel face its economic and security challenges
  • Israel was not due to hold elections for another year

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for an early election after failing to agree on a budget with his coalition partners, saying the vote should be held "as soon as possible" for the good of the country.

In a televised announcement Tuesday, Netanyahu said the election was necessary to ensure "a responsible security and economic policy" in the face of the economic downturn and threats to Israel's security from Iran and elsewhere.

The election will ideally happen in three months' time, he said, rather than in October 2013, as originally scheduled.

"It is my obligation as the prime minister to put the national interest above everything else," Netanyahu said.

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"So I have decided that it is in the best interest for the state of Israel to go to elections now and as soon as possible."

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Netanyahu said he had concluded after talks with the heads of the other parties in his coalition that it was not currently possible to pass a "responsible budget with a long-term outlook" for Israel.

"We are at the start of an election year and I am sorry that during an election year it is difficult for parties to put the national interest above the party interest," he said.

"The result of this could be the breaking of the budget and a massive increase in the deficit which will force us very quickly into the position of the economies that are disintegrating in Europe. I won't let that happen here."

Researchers at the Bank of Israel predicted in September that Israel's economic growth this year would come in at 3.3%, versus 3.0% next year. Inflation through the end of the third quarter of 2013 was forecast to be 2.6%.

According to Israel's Haaretz newspaper, the planned budget included between 13 and 15 billion shekels in cuts, with wage reductions for public sector workers and infrastructure projects to be slashed. The Jerusalem Post said the proposed cuts totaled between 15 billion and 17 billion shekels.

Two coalition partners, the ultra-Orthodox party Shas and Yisrael Beytenu, Avigdor Lieberman's nationalist party, were against cuts being imposed on lower earners, including young families and families with many children.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, leader of the Independence Party, was against any cuts in the defense budget.

Without those three coalition partners on board, Netanyahu had little chance of getting the budget through the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

Netanyahu hopes his right-wing Likud party will come out of the snap election with more seats in the Knesset and a stronger hold on the coalition.

The centrist political faction Kadima, led by Shaul Mofaz, may lose out in a new vote.

Outlining the security challenges currently facing Israel, Netanyahu said: "We have to ensure Iran does not get nuclear weapons, guard our borders from terror and migration, to guard the peace agreements with our neighbors, to stand on the vital interests in all future negotiations for peace and to ensure a dynamic and growing economy that will guard the work place for the citizens of Israel."

Iran has repeatedly insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian energy purposes only. But it has rebuffed demands to halt its production of enriched uranium, and a 2011 report by the United Nations' nuclear watchdog found "credible" information that Tehran has carried out work toward nuclear weapons -- including tests of possible bomb components.

Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly this year, Netanyahu said time was quickly running out to find a diplomatic solution to the impasse.

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