Israeli Finance Minister Expects Defense Cuts

Yuval Steinitz Says Budget Will Be Tight

By Reuters

Published January 28, 2013.
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“It is quite probable that I will maintain the current position. But it is also possible that I will have another capacity,” he said.

Netanyahu’s alliance with ultra-nationalists led by former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman won 31 seats in the elections.

However Yair Lapid, a former talk show host who is left-of-center, led the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party to second place with 19 seats.

Lapid’s appeal reflects frustration among secular middle-class taxpayers resentful of shouldering what they see as the burden of welfare-dependent ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, Jews exempt from military conscription.

Asked if helping trim the budget deficit will include cuts to Haredi welfare, Steinitz said: “We will consider this as well but as I said, I don’t want to get into details.”

He added that the Haredi recognize they can no longer avoid sharing in the defense and security burden that is a right-of-passage for every other Israeli who serve in the military before heading off to higher education.

Steinitz, who has been finance minister since April 2009, said Lapid and Naftali Bennett, leader of the far-right Jewish Home Party, have similar views on the economy.

These parties, Steinitz said, hold rational positions on how to deal with the economy and promote economic growth. “They understand you have to bake the cake before you can eat it,” he said.

It is not clear if these parties would become members of a coalition government as Netanyahu, an obvious choice for prime minister, has not yet been asked to form a government by Israeli President Shimon Peres.

“It is difficult to say,” Steinitz said of the Lapid and Bennett parties’ participation. “It depends on their ability to compromise.”

A new government is possible by late February or early March.

As for any Haredi participation, whose long-standing role as kingmakers in coalition negotiations has been downgraded, Steinitz said he did not know if they would participate.

“It depends mainly on their ability to compromise on things that are very dear to them. I assume that if they are ready to compromise they will be in. If not they will stay out.”


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