Netanyahu and Yuval Steinitz - Emil Salman - August 7 2011
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz consulting in Knesset recently. Photo by Emil Salman
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to reveal today the makeup of a team of experts whose task will be to propose economic steps to address the mounting public protests. Netanyahu was hard pressed to find experts from outside the government. During the past week he personally called economists from both the academic and private sectors in an effort to convince them to join the team.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz will head the team, however it is still unclear which other ministers will be included. Among the possible candidates mentioned in the past are: Moshe Kahlon, Gideon Sa'ar, Gilad Eran, Eli Yishai, Ariel Atias, Shalom Simchon and Stas Misezhnikov.

The Prime Minister's Bureau would say only that the team will include ministers from every party in the coalition. However, the three ministers holding economic-related portfolios in the government told Haaretz yesterday that Netanyahu did not discuss the matter with them and that they were not briefed.

"I heard that I am a member of the team only from the media," one of the ministers said.

Another minister said with a touch of irony: "I am just a minister in the government - why would they tell me that I was appointed to the committee?"

Haaretz learned that Netanyahu had personally contacted more than five economists, either from academia or business, during the past week to join the team. These include experts in real estate, taxation, banking, education, etc. Following a few minutes of urging them to agree to join the team, teh prime minister ended the conversations by asking them not to let the media know that he had contacted them.

Some economists were surprised to receive a personal call from the prime minister, and sought to understand what sort of mandate the committee of experts would have and what would be their role on a team which also comprised ministers. Others simply turned Netanyahu down.

Netanyahu's personal involvement is probably a result of the difficulty the Prime Minister's Bureau has faced in finding willing experts to join the group. In the end, the PM appears to have managed to recruit a number of experts from academia and the private sector, whose names, along with the mandate of the team, will be announced today.

The PM's Bureau confirmed that Netanyahu had personally approached a number of experts but refused to divulge their names. His aides said that the delay and secrecy stemmed from the need to examine possible conflicts of interest that some of the experts may have in joining the team.

Sources at the PM's Bureau said yesterday that Netanyahu will define the mandate of the committee and will ask for recommendations by the end of September. According to his aides, the team will focus on the following subjects: lowering the cost of living and ways for breaking up the cartels and monopolies in the economy; lowering indirect taxation; lifting some of the bureaucracy in the field of housing construction; proposing measures which would make it easier for young couples to fund their children's education.

"Netanyahu realizes and is attentive to the demonstrations," sources in his bureau said yesterday. "The team of experts will formulate recommendations and will sit with the representatives of the protest in order to hear them. We are hopeful that we will have interlocutors and subjects to discuss, and that there will be a clear representation of the demonstrators. We will alter some of our priorities but we will not exceed the budget limits."

Over the weekend Netanyahu said during private meetings that the economic crises in Europe and the United States and the lowering of the American credit rating show that "rushed and irresponsible steps may easily undermine Israel's economy." He added that "some key countries in Europe are on the verge of bankruptcy. I will not allow this to happen in Israel." Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is due to hold a press briefing at about the same time as the start of today's cabinet meeting, and is likely to also comment on the socio-economic protests.