With the Likud primary over, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to turn the Finance Ministry over to one of two fellow Likudniks, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz if not Interior Minister Gilad Erdan.
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Netanyahu, who has held the finance portfolio since he expelled Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party from the coalition last month, refrained from naming anyone to the post until after the Likud primary in order to prevent squabbling and see who emerged strongest in the vote.
Katz had considered himself a likely candidate on the assumption that he would land the number-two spot on the Likud Knesset slate after Netanyahu. In an interview with Israel Radio last week, he predicted he would not only serve as interim finance minister until a government was formed after the March 17 election, but would probably retain the post in another Netanyahu-led government.
Katz played a key role in Netanyahu’s campaign to remain the party's leader in the primary, but Wednesday’s vote left Katz in fourth place on the Likud ticket.
Erdan, who moved up to interior minister after serving as communications minister, placed second on the list after Netanyahu, substantially improving his chances of advancing another notch in the cabinet to the treasury.
Meanwhile, Yuval Steinitz, who was finance minister in the previous Netanyahu government but was shunted to strategic and intelligence affairs minister in the current one, has sought a return.
For Netanyahu, Steinitz would be an easier man to work with and would leave the prime minister a good deal of control over the ministry. Netanyahu called on Likud voters to back Steinitz in the primary, but he reached only 12th place.
Still, if Netanyahu is given the mandate to form the next government and can retain the finance portfolio for Likud, he might opt to give it to Steinitz and leave Katz and Erdan with the ministries they have now.
Likud sources said this week that if the party won enough Knesset seats, Netanyahu preferred to keep the Finance Ministry for himself after the election. The prime minster learned a lesson about not having his finance minister as a loyal partner during the 18 months of Lapid’s tenure.
Lapid created his own agenda during that stretch; for instance, he refused to increase taxes and insisted that the budget deficit be widened.
But if the Likud polls no more than the 22 to 24 seats that the surveys now show, it will have to bring several junior partners into the coalition or even try to form a national unity government. In that case, Netanyahu may not be able to keep the Finance Ministry for Likud at all, especially if he insists on keeping the Defense Ministry for the party.
Meanwhile, MK Haim Katz’s poor showing in the primary may be a sign that Likud members are upset with the power he has amassed. Still, the Government Companies Authority’s ban on Israel Aerospace Industries workers voting during work hours may have played a role in his poor 17th-place showing.
Katz’s power base is in IAI’s powerful workers’ committee, but it’s not clear how seriously the ban was honored. Katz is regarded as a lawmaker interested in social-affairs issues, but his power with the backing of IAI workers has distressed many in the party.