Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is due to be finance minister in the new coalition government, with Habayit Hayehudi chief Naftali Bennett minister of industry, trade and labor with expanded powers to battle Israel’s giant conglomerates. [See story on Bennett below].
On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Lapid, who dropped his efforts to be named foreign minister. The job of finance minister is considered a political graveyard, especially now that the minister will have to address the yawning budget deficit. But analysts said Lapid would have been hard-pressed to turn down the Finance Ministry post when he based his election campaign on where public funds are going.
Lapid will have plenty of power in his new job because Netanyahu will forgo the title of economic strategy minister that he held in the outgoing government. Still, the prime minister, who is also a former finance minister, is expected to be heavily involved in economic issues, including Lapid’s proposed budget.
MKs say they are wondering about the extent Netanyahu will back Lapid, who after the January 22 election said he aimed to be prime minister next time around.
Lapid will also serve as chairman of the inner cabinet on socioeconomic issues, and a member of his party is expected to chair the Knesset Finance Committee. With the Finance Ministry and the Finance Committee under his party’s wing, Lapid will play a key role in allocating state funds. Also, the finance minister signs off on appointments of chief executives and chairmen of state companies.
In the outgoing government, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz was from one party, Likud, while the Finance Committee’s chairman, Moshe Gafni, was from another, United Torah Judaism. Nonetheless, Likud sources say Lapid will have to sweat to get his way at the committee.
Lapid is expected to face tough challenges in his new job. Just before the election, TheMarker posed questions to the leading parties on their economic platforms. At the time, Lapid opposed raising VAT or income tax. Yesh Atid also opposed raising the budget deficit target, calling this irresponsible.
The party has sought lower taxes as a way to reduce the cost of living. Before the election, Yesh Atid promised to act to lower the price of gasoline, water and electricity, in part by reducing taxes and increasing competition. It also favored natural-gas-powered power plants, fewer local water authorities and the continued elimination of customs duties.
There was no alternative to cutting state child allowances and “transition payments to yeshiva students who are not serving in the army,” the party said. Before the election, the party opposed increasing the defense budget, saying it could be cut.
While the Finance Ministry planned to propose an increase in the retirement age for women to 67 and for men to 70, Yesh Atid came out against the move but said it would encourage those who wanted to keep on working.