JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced early national elections.
In a news conference Tuesday evening, Netanyahu announced that elections for the 19th Knesset will be held a year early. Though a date has not yet been announced, it is expected that the vote will be held in early 2013, most likely in February.
A February election will be four years since the last Knesset election. The Knesset will return on Oct. 15, after which the government likely will pass a resolution to dissolve.
Netanyahu held meetings last week and on Tuesday with the heads of the other parties in his government coalition to decide whether to work to pass the 2013 budget or go to early elections. If the government cannot agree on a budget, it is grounds to go to elections.
Going to elections without an approved budget means that the ministries will operate on the 2012 budget allocations. A new budget would have seen deep cuts in many ministries.
In a statement issued Tuesday evening, Netanyahu said: "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. 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. 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."
"At this time, in light of the two great upheavals around us, the security and the economic, 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," Netanyahu said.
"The country has actually been in election mode for over six months, which is unhealthy and should be stopped as soon as possible," opposition Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich said.
"The public must remember that Netanyahu is going to elections in order to immediately afterward, pass a brutal and difficult budget that will harm the life of almost every citizen in the country, except for the very wealthy," she told reporters.