Rivlin listens as Netanyahu addresses Knesset
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, right, listens as PM Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset, Dec. 30, 2012. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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Alon Ron
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin Photo by Alon Ron

Speaker Reuven Rivlin called on the Knesset on Thursday to pass a resolution to disband within a few days after it reconvenes on October 15 - a move that would prepare the ground for early elections.

MK Rivlin said he expects the country to go to the polls during the second or third week of February, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forming the next government.

Among the other parties in Netanyahu's coalition, there is a growing sense that the elections will be held in February or March. Absent a move toward an early vote, the country would go to the polls next autumn.

"There is no doubt that the political decision has been made and all the parties are preparing for elections," said Rivlin (Likud). "If we really are facing elections, the Knesset would do well to pass a law and disband immediately, within days or even within the first hours of the winter session and not drag the decision out for weeks and weeks."

Rivlin also stressed the need to approve a 2013 budget as soon as possible. "We are in a global financial crisis that threatens to sweep up Israel, and without a 2013 budget, there will be disastrous consequences for the socioeconomic situation and for weaker segments of the population," he said.

"The economic situation does not permit the country to exist without an approved budget, so elections should be held as quickly as possible."

On Tuesday, Netanyahu held meetings with the heads of the other coalition parties to consider whether to step up efforts to pass the 2013 budget or move up the elections. He met with officials including Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz of his Likud party and Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

The prospect of early elections arose after Yishai said Shas would not support wide-ranging budget cuts, particularly cuts to benefits for the elderly, single-parent families and the poor.

A senior Likud minister close to Netanyahu told Haaretz this week that barring unforeseen developments, the elections will be moved up due to the budget impasse. If the Knesset disbands shortly after it reconvenes and therefore fails to pass a budget for next year, ministries will head into the new year with monthly budgets equal to their original monthly allocations for 2012.

"The price of cuts is highly problematic as far as the public is concerned," the minister said. "I see no logical reason to defer going to the polls before October [2013], and it's better to go to early elections, unless the prime minister decides to pass the budget at any price."

Political sources told Haaretz this week that Netanyahu indeed seeks to bring the elections forward but wants to put the blame on Shas for opposing the cuts to entitlements. The sources say Netanyahu wants to create the impression that he seeks to pass a budget for next year, but Shas is complicating matters and forcing him to go to the polls.

In any case, sources at the Prime Minister's Office said this week that no final decision had been made.

"The prime minister made it clear on his return from the United States that he is looking into the feasibility of an early election, and he's expected to make a decision in the coming days," said a source close to Netanyahu. "But no such decision has been made. There is nothing new on the subject."