Israel’s 1996 Budget Gets Preliminary Cabinet Approval

The Israeli Cabinet has given its preliminary approval to the country’s 1996 budget of about $53 billion.

The budget approved at Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting calls for cuts of some $566 million, which will be spread across the budgets of all Israeli ministries.

The approval comes nearly two months after Finance Minister Avraham Shohat first presented his budget plans to the other ministers.

Shohat devoted much of the intervening time to convincing the Cabinet to accept the cuts, particularly those in defense spending.

In the recent weeks of budget discussions, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was quoted as telling the Cabinet that the government’s foremost priority at this time is the peace process and that it should take no steps that could send a message of a weakened security force.

Israel’s security services, including the Israel Defense Force and the police, were expected to absorb the new budget’s largest cuts, which would come from the salaries of senior career officers and from social benefits plans.

Shohat presented a plan at Sunday’s meeting to generate new revenues by canceling Israel’s tax credit for working married women.

This drew sharp criticism from Labor and Social Welfare Minister Ora Namir, who conveyed her opposition by refraining to take part in the vote.

Shohat said he would reconsider the idea.

Health Minister Ephraim Sneh voted against the budget, saying that the cuts in his ministry were unacceptable.

“It should not get to the point where we have to decide, `This person does not get dialysis treatment, that woman does not receive treatment for cancer,’” he told Israel Television.

“I am a pragmatic person,” he added. “I will have to find a way in this very uncomfortable situation how to deal with this to maintain the health of the public.”

The Cabinet has scheduled to meet again soon to make a final decision on the shape of the 1996 budget.

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