Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz is a pleasant man. Even the treasury employees, who've seen many a minister come and go, say he makes them feel good. But there were evil winds whipping the world when he took the seat on March 31, and Steinitz was not perceived as the best choice for the job. He'd never been a minister or even a deputy minister. He had a doctorate in philosophy but no background in economics.
Further weakening his status was the statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he himself would be the uber-minister of economics. Steinitz later learned that Netanyahu had made several decisions behind his back, mostly opposing the treasury's positions, such as by postponing cuts to the defense budget. Netanyahu's actions and reliance on his aide Uri Yogev gnawed at the treasury's status. The lowest point was the budget for 2009 and 2010, which contained elements the ministry opposed and which passed the cabinet on May 13, leading treasury budgets director Ram Belinkov to resign.
Since then, Steinitz has been taking charge, not least by clarifying that he was the one who decided to kill the proposal to impose VAT on fruit and vegetables. His achievements include supporting the two-year budget and the treasury's conservative plan, including a 6% deficit this year and 5.5% in 2010. He refused to lend state money to tycoons in trouble, which at the time was a hard decision to make. He has appointed technocrats, Haim Shani and Udi Nissan, to top positions. All these and other decisions, some made with the Bank of Israel, helped restore Israelis' confidence in the economy.
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