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Likely next Finance Minister Kahlon making his case
Likely next Finance Minister Kahlon making his case
Shaul Amsterdamski

TEL AVIV — When the coalition agreement is signed and the next Israeli government is officially formed as expected next month, it will have exactly 107 days to pass the state budget that will chart the country's economic course.

So even while the rest of the world may focus on the profiles of the incoming foreign and defense ministers, Israelis will be just as concerned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has the right candidate for finance minister.

The first condition is that the person must really want the job, which was not truly the case in the last government's Yair Lapid. And beyond the candidate's own ability to address the much needed economic reforms, he or she must be able to work in harmony with Netanyahu and have his full support.

Indeed one of the biggest weaknesses of the previous government was Lapid and Netanyahu's inability to work together. Their relationship was probably doomed from the outset when Lapid made it be known that the position was actually a stepping stone for himself to become prime minister in the next elections.

At that moment, Netanyahu understood that he not only had a finance minister from a different political party with 19 seats (out of 120) in Parliament, but that he also had in front of him a direct political rival eyeing his throne.

Two free market men

The most likely scenario is that the next finance minister will be Moshe Kahlon. Netanyahu announced his intentions earlier this week to give Kahlon the job, though negotiations continue to be difficult. If Kahlon winds up in the post, we are likely to see a completely different model of organization of the ministry than during the previous government.

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Firstly, Kahlon’s party "Kulanu" has only 10 seats in parliament, and therefore is less threatening to the prime minister. Kahlon is also a very different person than Lapid, not in a hurry to win power, whomever the prime minister might be.

Moreover, back in 2012, Netanyahu and Kahlon reportedly worked well together to push through a major reform of the mobile telephone industry. Ideologically speaking, the two men share much in common, both declaring themselves firm believers in the ability of the free market to resolve many of the ills in the economy.

Still, a shared belief in the private sector over the state was also supposed to mean that Lapid and Netanyahu were supposed to work together just fine. Still, the difference is that unlike Lapid, Kahlon is an experienced and skilled politician.

But the question this time is how far Netanyahu will go to support his new finance minister. Back when Kahlon was the communications minister from the Likud party, Netanyahu wound up withholding support for him when he realized Kahlon was too popular. Many Likud ministers said that Netanyahu acts this way with everybody. The hope is that with 30 seats in his pocket this time, Netanyahu has no political threat in the horizon, so he could throw his full support behind Kahlon.

The bigger issue now is how can the pair, even if they work well together, push through much needed economic reform. Many of the most important proposals slated, in order to succeed, would require facing down powerful state and non-state actors. So even if Netanyahu has the right man for the job, there is much hard work ahead for all.

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