Netanyahu calls snap general election

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last night called a snap general election, hoping to cash in on his overwhelming popularity and forestall divisive wrangling over spending cuts.

Addressing reporters at his Jerusalem office, Mr Netanyahu said he had come to the conclusion it would be impossible to agree with his coalition partners on a "responsible budget".

He pointed to Israel's stable economy and low unemployment and said early elections were preferable to a long, drawn-out shadow campaign. Traditionally, the pre-election season has been exploited by minor parties to push expensive, populistic measures through parliament.

"There is only one way to safeguard our achievements," Mr Netanyahu said. "We must continue to follow a responsible security and economic policy.

"I have decided that the well-being of the state of Israel obliges us to call elections now, as quickly as possible. It would be preferable… to have a short election campaign of three months rather than a year-long campaign that would badly damage Israel's economy."

He did not announce an election date but it seems likely to be in January, giving Mr Netanyahu's opponents little time to prepare.

Mr Netanyahu is far and away Israel's most popular politician and the opposition parties that would like to challenge him are in disarray.

A Haaretz survey gave 28 seats to his Likud party in the 120-member Knesset, far ahead of any rival faction. Mr Netanyahu became Prime Minister for the second time in February 2009, despite his Likud party coming second. Kadima, the largest party, was unable to form a working coalition. Since then, Kadima has split into factions.