Netanyahu: Bezeq Price Was Too High

Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has admitted mistakes were made at last week's state sale of Bezeq shares, and he knew who made them.

Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has admitted mistakes were made at last week's state sale of Bezeq shares, and he knew who made them. "Director-general of the Government Companies Authority, Eyal Gabbai, made an error of judgment by not cutting the price of the offer," Netanyahu told Haaretz. The minister has often stated the price of such sales should not be rigid. "We should have been more attentive to the market and we weren't. But we will learn from our mistake, and we will listen more to the market."

The government hoped to sell NIS 700 million worth of stocks in the domestic phone monopoly Bezeq last Wednesday, but foreign investors simply failed to turn up and locals bought only NIS 300 million. When trade in Bezeq shares resumed Wednesday afternoon, the stock sank 2.3 percent. By all accounts, the sale was a flop.

Would Netanyahu therefore be taking steps following Gabbai's misjudgement? "All in all, Gabbai didn't do a bad job," the minister said, "but maybe following what happened with Bezeq he will be more sensitive to the market, because what is important is not what we think but what the market thinks. Maybe Gabbai will get a memo."

But was the failure just a result of the insistence on the high price? "It could be that there is a political component, I cannot rule that out. I think the market in Israel has already internalized the significance of a possible breakup of the coalition, but I think the overseas investors have not yet digested this significance."

Referring to the possible breakup of the coalition, he could foresee some economic ramifications. "This year we will reach a budget deficit of 3.5-4 percent [of GDP], but if the present coalition breaks up, I don't know what will happen."

One of the most important reforms currently on his agenda, he said, was the banking sector. He is in constant touch with his director-general Yossi Bachar, who is chairing a committee into the matter. Has Netanyahu been pressured at all by the banks?

"The banks are very angry with me - but what can I do? I am not dependent on anyone though. I don't accept anything from anyone - maybe because I am not talented enough. I have received no benefit from the past [from the banks] and not in the future, I am simply not in the game - and I will do the right thing."

Netanyahu wished to respond to charges that over the past two weeks his political activities regarding the prime minister's Gaza withdrawal plan have distracted him from his task at the treasury. "I am still active as the finance minister," he insisted, pointing to talks he has held on the subject of the railways, the ports and the crisis at the local authorities.

However, "I am not Superman. Even Superman had his limitations, even his X-ray vision couldn't penetrate lead."