Fischer Rebuffs Netanyahu on Offer to Join Cabinet

Stanley Fischer yesterday rejected Benjamin Netanyahu's plea to join his cabinet as finance minister. Netanyahu, the prime minister designate and former finance minister himself, may well decide to keep the finance portfolio for himself. He reportedly doesn't feel there are any suitable candidates among his fellow party members to head the ministry.

His candidates all come from outside the party, as did Fischer - the governor of the Bank of Israel. By order of preference, his favorite candidates are himself, followed by Avigdor Lieberman and an external figure - Aharon Fogel. The latter knows the Finance Ministry, having served as its director general and chief of its budgets department. Fogel currently chairs both Migdal Insurance and Ness Technologies, a giant software house.

However, if Netanyahu manages to build a broad coalition with Kadima, he almost certainly will have to forgo keeping the finance portfolio for himself.

Sources close to the prime minister-designate say Netanyahu's final decision depends on Lieberman's own final decision. Lieberman is demanding one of three top portfolios in a new cabinet - the Foreign Ministry, Finance Ministry or Defense Ministry - in exchange for his party's loyalty.

One possibility is that Netanyahu will take the finance portfolio for a few months until the government's economic policy is established, and until a budget is in place for 2009. (There isn't one yet, although we're two months into the year.)

Other candidates floated include Shlomo Nehama, the former chairman of Bank Hapoalim, and Jacob Frenkel, vice chairman of AIG and a former governor of Bank of Israel.

Another candidate, to whom initial feelers have already been sent, is the head of the National Economic Council in the Prime Minister's Office, Manuel Trajtenberg.