Party leaders approve Treasury plan

Olmert to seek broad agreement on pension safety net by Sunday.

Leaders of the main political parties agreed on Thursday to give approval to the Treasury's economic stimulus plan and the proposed financial measures in spite of disagreements over the provision of a broader pension safety net. "We will approve the plan as was presented to us," opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu said Thursday. "Not to take a decision now, during a great economic crisis, would be the worst thing. No politics, no coalition, but approval of the plan is the right thing to do." Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with leaders of the large political parties Thursday in Jerusalem to discuss economic plans. "It is clear that we need to put aside political considerations from the dialogue and establish a professional standpoint to provide the best solutions to the problems the Israeli economy is facing," he said. Olmert, Kadima chairwoman and Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni, Netanyahu and Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak discussed the Treasury's NIS 21.7 billion economic stimulus package and the NIS 11b. financial package recommended for intervention into capital markets. Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai and representatives of the Bank of Israel and the Israel Securities Authority also took part in the meeting. Olmert said the meeting was an effort to "reach a broad national agreement on the plan, because without such an agreement, there are liable to be side effects that we don't want to deal with." The Histadrut Labor Federation on Tuesday officially approved a work dispute in the public sector in protest against the Treasury's refusal to provide a broad pension safety net. By law, the Histadrut can call a strike two weeks after declaring the work dispute. Wednesday night, Olmert failed to approve the Treasury's limited pension safety-net plan in favor of a broader plan. Olmert said he would conduct personal meetings with some ministers, Netanyahu, Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini and Manufacturers Association of Israel president Shraga Brosh in an effort to reach broad agreement on the model of a pension safety net by Sunday. Olmert has also instructed the Finance Ministry, the Bank of Israel and the National Economic Council to work on a pension safety plan. Bar-On reiterated his opposition to a broader pension safety net, arguing that protection was not necessary. Bank of Israel official Zvi Eckstein warned that any deviation from the Treasury's limited pension safety net would cost the economy a high price. The Knesset Finance Committee will convene on Sunday to discuss the Treasury's economic and financial plans with representatives from the Finance Ministry, the Histadrut and business organizations. The meeting was scheduled following urgent calls by former Knesset Finance Committee chairman Stas Meseznikov (Israel Beiteinu) to summon an emergency committee meeting during the Knesset recess. Knesset regulations stipulate that at least three committee members must sign such a request. Knesset Finance Committee chairman Avishai Braverman has previously refused to discuss approval of the Finance Ministry's economic stimulus and finance plans unless they include a safety net for pensions.