Netanyahu to Meet Major Economic Figures Today

The four candidates to serve under the PM as finance minister are all Likud MKs: Yuval Steinitz, Gilad Erdan, Yuli Edelstein and Moshe Kahlon.

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu intends on appointing a Minister in the Finance Ministry while keeping the job of Finance Minister for himself, at least for the first few months of his term.

The four candidates to serve under him as minister are all Likud MKs: Yuval Steinitz, Gilad Erdan, Yuli Edelstein and Moshe Kahlon. Netanyahu will decide which of the four will be appointed this week.

Over the weekend Netanyahu's confidants proposed a number of new names for the ministerial job, or for finance minister. None of these new candidates are MKs.

The title of Minister in the Finance Ministry was created for Meir Sheetrit when Netanyahu was finance minister in Ariel Sharon's cabinet in 2003. Sheetrit is now a Kadima member and Minister of Interior.

Netanyahu wants the minister to help him with professional matters in the treasury, while he deals more with the political side of the job - for example in convincing ministers and MKs to support the budget or other legislations and plans.

Steinitz has already refused to serve as deputy finance minister, preferring to chair the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee instead. Erdan and Kahlon both served in the past as chairman of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, and Edelstein was a minister. Steinitz however, has never served in any economic post, and both he and Erdan want to serve as ministers at the head of their own ministries and not be subordinate to another minister, even if it is Netanyahu.

Netanyahu will meet today on his own initiative with a number of senior economic figures to hear their evaluations of the state of the Israeli economy and get their advice regarding how to deal with the present crisis and recession. Those invited come from several different sectors, and many have known Netanyahu for a long time.

Among those invited are Yaron Zelekha, former accountant general under Netanyahu in the Finance Ministry. It is still unclear whether Zelekha, a close confidante of Netanyahu, will be appointed to any official post in the new government.

Also invited is Yaakov Neeman, the likely candidate for Justice Minister. Other invitees include wealthy business people such as Shari Arison, Yitzhak Tshuva, Sami Shamoon, Idan Ofer and Eli Hurvitz. Manufacturers Association President Shraga Brosh, Chambers of Commerce head Uriel Lynn and former Israel Securities Authority chairman Moshe Tery have also been invited; as were as Bank Leumi CEO Galia Maor and others.

Netanyahu intends to keep in contact with business and economic leaders after establishing his government, meeting with them from time to time.

Netanyahu's economic transition team, called the 100-day team and led by Steinitz, will make a number of economic recommendations, including adopting the plan of ISA chairman Zohar Goshen to provide state guarantees for refinancing corporate bonds. The plan would guarantee 80% of the value of bond issues this year, which would keep the loss for investors at no worse than 20%. In return, the issuers would paid a fee. The team objected to a proposal from the banks to postpone bond repayments through legislation.

Other recommendations include state guarantees for small and mid-sized businesses unable to find credit, with the state guaranteeing 70% to 80% of the funds in return for a 3% fee.

The state will also provide guarantees for the banks when raising capital so the funds can be used to provide more credit and ease the credit crunch, particularly for businesses in the periphery.

The team also recommended establishing a broad, permanent forum for discussing major economic issues including representatives of the government, employers, labor and social organizations - instead of a socioeconomic council.