(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In a speech before the Israel Business Conference, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed he would not succumb to pressure to run an "election economy" ahead of the March 28 general elections.
"There will not be election economics and there will not be election promises," he said before a business conference in Tel Aviv. "What the Israeli economy needs is patience, responsibility and thoughtful actions taken after planning and checking the impacts on the short term and long term - not slogans and not magic solutions."
Stanley Fischer, governor of the Bank of Israel, warned the country's leaders on Monday not to let the upcoming general election affect economic strategy. He referred indirectly to campaign remarks by many of the candidates, who are pledging to turn around the current trend of cutting welfare expenditures.
"We are in an election period, and the democratic process is underway," Fischer said. "It is most important that the political uncertainty must not lead to uncertainty over the wider economic strategy."
At the same time, Sharon said, "There is no reason for children to go hungry - and they won't."
Sharon used the speech, delivered before Israeli and international business leaders at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv, to call on Israeli politicians to approve the budget. "Would anyone criticizing the budget be elected?" he asked, and replied jokingly, "I don't think so - because I intend to be elected."
In response to criticism of the budget from the Left, Sharon said that "Help should be given to those who can't work: the elderly, the handicapped, single-parent families, new immigrants. The 2006 budget includes help for these sectors. It's not too late to approve the budget."
If someone other than himself were to win the election, he told the crowd, "they can make changes afterward, but let's not hold the budget hostage."
In the speech, the prime minister laid out a series of Israeli economic achievements under his leadership. According to Sharon, Israel expects to end the year with 5 percent growth and an unemployment rate of 8.9%, down 2% from two years ago.