Cabinet gives its initial OK to a budget of $53 billion

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

The budget approved at the weekly Cabinet meeting on August 27 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 recent weeks of budget discussions, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was quoted as telling the Cabinet that the government's foremost priority is the peace process, and it should not take steps toward 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 to generate new revenues by canceling Israel's tax credit for working married women.

This drew criticism from Labor and Social Welfare Minister Ora Namir, who showed her opposition by not taking part in the vote. Shohat said he would reconsider the idea.

Health Minister Ephraim Sneh voted against the budget, saying 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 will have to find a way in this very uncomfortable situation how to deal with this to maintain the health of the public," he added.

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