Israel's consumer price index soared by 19.4 percent in April, pushing inflation close to the record level of last October and renewing doubts about the effectiveness of an economic recovery program that has been cited as justification for the United States to grant $1.5 billion in emergency aid over the next two years.
The steep price rise last month, announced by the Bureau of Central Statistics, appeared to surprise government officials, who had predicted a rise of about 13 percent. Under Israel's elaborate system of wage indexing, most workers will receive an automatic 15.5 percent wage increase next month.
Officials of the Labor Party and the Likud bloc, the main partners in the national unity government, met separately tonight to consider the news. A special meeting of government ministers who deal with the economy was called for Thursday.
Last October, the index rose by 24.3 percent, an annual inflation rate of 1,260 percent that threatened both economic and political collapse unless stemmed.
Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who has made a revival of Israel's battered economy the top priority of his administration, made no statement.
Others in Israel, including economists and politicians, said the inflation figure underscored the need for drastic cuts in the government budget, which the Peres government has failed to achieve.
Yoram Ben Porath, an economist at Hebrew University, said that while the April figure was higher than expected, it should not have been a shock because of general recognition that the agreement on wage and price controls negotiated by the government "in itself would not sustain an economic policy."
"The budget side is really not restrained and taxes in the pipeline have not been imposed," he noted.
In February, the parliament adopted a budget of $23.3 billion, only slightly less than the government's actual spending in 1984. But actual spending last year exceeded that budgeted. Spending has been running ahead of targets again this year.
Attempts to impose budget cuts have run into fierce resistance, most recently from teachers. They are fighting a projected slash in spending by the Education Ministry that could cost thousands of teaching jobs.
Budget cuts were part of a recovery program that the Israeli government has pledged to adopt, and which it has cited in seeking the emergency $1.5 billion in U.S. grants over the next two fiscal years. The grants would be in addition to the $3.2 billion in economic and military assistance Israel is due to receive in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, and a slightly larger amount in fiscal 1987.
The Reagan administration recently indicated its support for the emergency grants after it became clear that Congress, which is now processing the request, intended to appropriate the money in any case.
The government here has failed to achieve several other portions of its economic recovery program, such as legislation that would gradually prevent the government from calling on the central bank to print enough money to cover the annual budget deficit.
Officials here have also rebuffed U.S. suggestions that they gradually eliminate the cost-of-living indexing, which affects not only wages but savings accounts, mortgages and virtually every other major financial transaction.
The shock waves sent out by the April inflation figures could play into Peres' hands. His aides say he is determined to impose stiff austerity measures. They cited his threat, before the parliamentary Finance Committee yesterday, to resign unless tax increases and budget measures are enacted promptly.
An official close to Peres said tonight that promised stiff measures would now be forthcoming, beginning Sunday at the regular meeting of the Israeli Cabinet.
However, there was no question that the April inflation rate was a severe blow to what has been until now the centerpiece of Peres' economic recovery program -- a negotiated program of wage and price controls that was designed as the first step toward economic revitalization.
To stem the record inflation last October, the then newly installed government headed by Peres negotiated a three-month freeze of wages and prices with union and business representatives.
After the freeze took full effect, the monthly inflation rate plunged to 3.7 percent in December and 5.3 percent in January. As the freeze was about to expire, the government negotiated a new eight-month agreement with unions and business, calling for controlled wage and price increases to keep a lid on inflation while economic recovery proceeded.
At the time, Peres called the new economic accord "one of the most important and far-reaching agreements" in Israel's history and said: "We cut all of our expenditures. Now we need a little more help from the U.S. to bridge the gap."
But the first three months under the current system of wage and price controls has not lived up to Peres' predictions. In February, March and April this year, the consumer price index rose by an average of 15 percent per month. During the same period last year, without the controls, the index rose 14.4 percent monthly.