Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu admitted for the first time that early elections may be held, speaking through his lawyer to a Likud party court on Wednesday.
"Legally, elections are supposed to take place in October 2013 but there is a possibility that they will take place in the first half of 2013 if no agreement is reached on the 2013 state budget that must pass by the end of the year," Likud legal adviser Avi Halevy said on Netanyahu's behalf. "Advancing the election would have significant ramifications on the party's agenda."
Netanyahu has been negotiating behind the scenes with Shas and Israel Beiteinu to ensure that the budget will pass and to avoid an early election.
The prime minister's statement came in response to Minister-without-Portfolio Michael Eitan's petition to the court to require Netanyahu to convene a Likud convention. Eitan, who intends to run against Netanyahu for the chairmanship of the convention, complained to the court that the prime minister was breaking the party's rules by not convening the event.
"Netanyahu does not need to fear a convention," Eitan said. "He should embrace Likud activists and unite them ahead of the upcoming election."