Once more with Steinitz?

Stella Korin-Lieber

In his third term, Benajmin Netanyahu will want to set economic goals from the start. But whom will he trust to achieve them?

He came in with a storm, and is exiting in a bigger storm. Yuval Steinitz. Will he come back? Maybe yes, maybe no. Has he been a success? On the whole, yes. As far as is possible in almost four years of national drama and personal tragedy in which he became, with self-sacrifice and fineness of soul, the bullet-proof vest of the government and of its head. Steinitz stood, and was made to stand, at the center of a target for political and economic arrows, globally, locally, on both the social and business fronts. He took one hit after another. Like the rabbit in the Duracell advertisements, he will continue until the last moment to take the blows, and also to insist on the slogans of everything's fine, the best in the world. The best there can be. The prime minister with the mostest. Problems? Deficit? Poverty? Yes, they exist, but we are doing everything, but everything, and the main thing is that we are the most, most… in the world.

It began at 2:20 am, on March 31. Netanyahu summoned his faithful follower, pupil, and admirer Yuval S, and informed him that he had chosen him to be minister of finance, not "a minister in the Ministry of Finance" as he previously intended. The next day, the incoming prime minister declared, "I will decide and I will set Israel's economic strategy," and began to overlook, circumvent, and humiliate his minister of finance. Ori Yogev received an appointment and backing as the mover and shaker of the budget, which was sewn together with crude stitches.

"Yogev is the real finance minister. Eini builds the economic strategy, holds the Labor Party by the hand, and dictates a package deal to which he contributes almost nothing. Steinitz isn't there. Former Minister of Finance Avraham Shochat said that in his place he would leave the keys and go home."(Ma'ariv 15.5.09). So it happened that Netanyahu's start, the prize-penalty for Steinitz, set the tone for the current economic term: being dragged along, plugging holes, tearing the too-short blanket, pulled this way and that, not building new foundations, no reforms, no initiatives. Even what did pass the Sheshinski committee, amendment of the Encouragement of Investment Law and the Committee on Concentration in the Economy Steinitz managed to push through despite the prime minster and those around him.

To Netanyahu's credit, it should be said that he apparently understood and internalized this bad lesson. If he forms the next government, he will dictate its direction and set its goals right at the start. Or, and this is a possibility that has already been put on the future coalition negotiating table, he will refuse to pass a budget that will further worsen the economy, and will go to the president and tell him that he cannot form a government that will deal with Israel's deteriorating economy. The assessment is that there will then be another election. Netanyahu, the reforming economist, who is especially proud of his achievements in the security sphere and in relation to Iran, will not allow such a historic opportunity: prime minister for the third time (!), to go to waste as far as the economy is concerned. This time around, there will be less wooing and tempting of candidates into his coalition. He will declare that if they extort him more and more, he will return the keys. This is a concrete, tough, and personal threat. In this event, all the newly elected Knesset members, who have only just won, will have to undergo another round of internal and general elections, at the end of which they may find themselves on the outside.

46 months on, Steinitz believes that he will be the next Minister of Finance. This is possible for several reasons: he has demonstrated great and unreserved loyalty to the prime minister, even when it was at his personal expense. He agreed to be the insulation foam, the prime minister's protective wall. Apart from that, there is almost no-one who wants this thankless job. Gideon Sa'ar, Gilad Erdan, and Yisrael Katz are already pressing their suits for the next round of the prime minister's choices. They know that the Finance Ministry is not a good springboard.

Avigdor Liberman might perhaps see it as a personal challenge. But for the time being, he is up to his neck in his approaching trial. There is the possibility that Netanyahu will keep the portfolio for himself. Another possibility is an external, professional appointment. The name Stanley Fischer of course comes up, but Fischer has already indicated that he will not be able to accept another appointment that will require him to remain far away from his family. Someone from the business community? Doubtful. It has to be someone of the highest level of credibility, personal honesty, and esteem. Who's left? Adv. Yaakov Neeman. A former finance minister who resigned from one moment to the next because of a bust-up with the prime minister. As minister of justice in this term, Neeman has demonstrated loyalty and dedication to both Netanyahu and Liberman. Maybe he'll keep the portfolio warm for Liberman. And perhaps it will be Shelly Yachimovich, who, for the sake of the finance portfolio, will know how to explain her backtracking from her commitment not to join a Netanyahu government. Only then, all hell will break loose…

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on January 17, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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