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Netanyahu calls for early elections in Israel

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JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Tuesday for early parliamentary elections after failing to agree with coalition partners on a national budget for the coming year.

In a brief televised statement, Netanyahu said elections should be held as “early as possible,” which political analysts said meant they would come nine months early, in January. Netanyahu — a popular leader who has overseen a solid economy and four years of relative stability in a turbulent region — is expected to win reelection easily.

A victory would allow Netanyahu to press ahead with budget cuts opposed by coalition partners and sustain his push for aggressive action against Iran. In a speech at the United Nations last month, he suggested that any potential Israeli military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would not happen before next spring.

Reelection also would cement Netanyahu’s mandate ahead of an expected economic slowdown and possible pressure from a newly elected U.S. president for peace talks with the Palestinians, which have effectively been frozen for two years.

The Israeli parliament is scheduled to begin its winter session this week, during which it was supposed to pass a national budget for next year. But after holding several recent meetings with coalition partners, Netanyahu said he concluded that an agreement on a “responsible budget” was impossible. Calling early elections defers the budget debate.

“In an election year, it is difficult for parties to place the national interest ahead of the party interest,” Netanyahu 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.”

Israeli parliamentary elections are usually called early, and Netanyahu’s announcement was widely expected.

Opinion surveys indicate that Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party would handily win the most seats in parliament. And Netanyahu has no real competition. In a late September poll conducted by the newspaper Haaretz, 35 percent of respondents said he was best suited to be the next prime minister — a figure higher than the results for his four main rivals combined.

Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich polled a distant second. Her platform is centered on the economy, a topic political analysts say is likely to be eclipsed by Netanyahu’s expected focus on Iran and other security-related matters.

“The public must remember that Netanyahu is going to election so he could pass a harsh budget following election — a budget that may harm the lives of almost all citizens in the country, except the richest,” Yacimovich said Tuesday.

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