Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon, who announced this week his retirement from politics, still goes into work every morning. People at the Ministry of Finance say that in contrast to the end-of-season mood prevailing at the ministry, Kahlon is still working as if he were in the middle of his term.
Last week, for example, he dealt with a permit for cannabis prices and privatization of Haifa Port. He may be acting from a sense of responsibility, a desire to improve his image, or simply enjoyment, but Kahlon intends to remain in his job at least until a new government is formed. When asked, Kahlon says that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked him to stay until then, and that even Benny Gantz was in favor. Anyone who wanted an apolitical minister is getting one. Kahlon has no reason to fear that anyone will want to take his job away from him. Who wants to be minister of finance when a temporary state budget is in force that involves painful cutbacks arousing protest from widows, the elderly, and orphans?
It turns out that such a person does actually exist. MK Nir Barkat, the former Jerusalem Mayor, is working hard to get the job of minister of finance now. Barkat has a score to settle with Kahlon, but what motivates him is cold calculation. He thinks that now is a great time to make plans for the next government, and that the Ministry of Finance is the best platform for doing this. His motive is electoral, of course. Barkat has been meeting with Netanyahu in recent days, and showed him the results of a poll indicating that a socioeconomic agenda is likely to gain the Likud six extra Knesset seats and the rightwing bloc three extra seats in the elections. Leaving Kahlon in the Ministry of Finance, on the other hand, exposes the Likud to electoral damage, Barkat argues.
The agenda that Barkat is preparing is based on the ideas of Harvard Professor of Economics Michael Porter. Porter believes that economic development should be based on the region's relative advantages. Based on Porter's theory, Barkat concentrated on tourist and technology development when he was mayor of Jerusalem, and says that Jerusalem has become a global leader in both of these areas. Barkat's emphasis in the election campaign is on development of the outlying areas and the means of doing it: investment in growth engines (tourism and light industry in the north, desert-tech and biblical tourism in Judea and Samaria) and differential budgeting.
He is also talking about opening parallel import channels and liquidating the Israel Land Authority, two rather old ideas favored by Netanyahu when he was minister of finance and minister of economy and industry. Barkat is trying to restore economic color to Netanyahu's cheeks, and just to make sure, is showing him surveys indicating that his measures are popular. The pollsters, incidentally, are Smith Consulting, whose services Netanyahu also uses. Netanyahu has yet to give Barkat an answer, perhaps because he wants to use his own pollsters to check Barkat's proposals - just to make sure.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 19, 2020
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