The Israeli Cabinet, after meeting for 12 hours, announced tonight a series of new steps in response to mounting evidence that the country's economy is continuing to deteriorate.
The measures included a proposed increase from 15 percent to 17 percent in the value-added tax that is imposed on most goods and services beginning June 1 and a doubling of the tax on Israelis who travel abroad from $150 to $300.
However, despite the renewed concern here over Israel's economic position, none of the steps announced tonight involved a fundamental change in the economy or drastic austerity measures. The most far-reaching of the actions, proposed legislation to make the Bank of Israel, the country's central bank, independent of the government, will require parliamentary approval and would not take full effect for three years.
If passed by the parliament, or Knesset, the legislation will gradually reduce and eventually eliminate the government's power to order the Bank of Israel to print enough money to cover the annual government budget deficit. The Reagan administration has been demanding adoption of such legislation as part of an economic revitalization program under which the United States is to provide Israel with an additional $1.5 billion in emergency aid over the next two years.
The marathon Cabinet meeting, which indicated the depth of disagreement within the government over economic policy, resulted from the shock waves sent out by clear signs of resurgent inflation in Israel and other indications that earlier measures have not stemmed the country's economic slide.
Speaking to reporters following the Cabinet meeting, Finance Minister Yitzhak Modai conceded that "there isn't much additional revenue" for the government in the new economic steps. He also acknowledged that for the last two months the government had been "printing money way beyond the volumes we had planned," indicating that earlier attempts to curb government spending and public consumption had been ineffective.
The continuing government budget deficit and the steady decline in Israel's foreign currency reserves were among the signs that alarmed officials and led to today's actions. But the key factor in bringing about the lengthy Cabinet meeting and the atmosphere of crisis that surrounded it was the announcement Wednesday that the consumer price index rose by 19.4 percent in April, an inflation rate close to the record levels reached in Israel last year.
Modai said he expected no immediate impact on inflation from the measures adopted today.
Several of the steps adopted by the Cabinet were temporary. The doubling of the travel tax, which is designed to stem the drain on foreign currency reserves by Israelis who travel abroad, will be effective only until Sept. 15, the end of the peak travel season.
The Cabinet also announced a limit on new government contracts and a freeze on public wages, but only until the end of August.
The Reagan administration has already agreed to support an emergency grant of $1.5 billion to Israel over the next two years. This would be in addition to more than $6 billion in regular economic and military assistance that Israel is due to receive from the United States during the same period.
During earlier negotiations over the emergency grant, the administration said it was seeking a fundamental restructuring of the Israeli economy in return for the additional aid, but it more recently has appeared to drop many of its initial demands.