The Bottom Line / Hip, Hip Hooray for Ehud, Koby and Arie

Ehud Olmert. On Wednesday, Ehud Olmert launched a frontal attack on Benjamin Netanyahu because the latter stymied passage of the disengagement plan. Olmert said: "One hand is making enormous efforts to improve the economy, and the other hand is working to destroy what the first is building... There are people [i.e. Netanyahu] who delude themselves that all this [i.e. the occupation] can continue, and that people will still continue to have relations with us."

Today, Olmert continued, huge opportunities are opening up for Israeli exports in China, India, South Korea and Mexico, but there is a danger that these opportunities will be lost, because "Israel today is a vilified country, the most denounced and the most smeared in the world. There isn't an international conference at which Israel is not denounced... Someone's [i.e. Netanyahu's] stubbornness is a recipe for undermining the basis of our existence." All of these statements are both courageous and true.

Netanyahu, for his part, is becoming more and more reminiscent of the scorpion who told the frog, a minute before they both drowned: "What can I do? That's my nature." Netanyahu tells us fairy tales about foreign investors who are waiting in line - but he has not managed to find a single investor for Bank Leumi, and Bezeq's issue on Wednesday flopped because foreign investors did not buy. For his information: In the Western world, it is not the norm to invest in countries that are accused by Amnesty of committing war crimes in Rafah.

Arie Mientkavich. In light of the massive assault from all directions on Arie Mientkavich's "golden parachute" (in which this writer participated), it is appropriate to also recall the man's achievements. At the end of 1997, he took over as chairman of a bank that was essentially a financial corpse. Many predicted that it would go bankrupt. In the summer of 2002, when Amiram Sivan spoke about the possibility that "a major bank would collapse," everyone thought that he was referring to Israel Discount Bank.

But Mientkavich did not give up. Without any help from the owner (the government neither injected new capital nor backed him up in his struggle against the militant workers' committee), though with help from CEOs David Granot and Giora Offer, he "cleaned up" some NIS 4 billion worth of unrecoverable debts, most stemming from the sins of the past in the real estate field, arranged the departure of 700 workers in six years, lowered the bank's wages - previously the highest in the banking system - to fourth place, and brought the bank into the black (though not far enough) last year. Now, finally, the bank is about to be privatized.

Koby Haber. The Finance Ministry's new budgets director began his tenure on the right foot. Several days ago, he decided to record properly in the state budget some NIS 11 billion that the treasury will transfer to Israel Railways over the next five years. He thereby overturned the decision made by his predecessor, Uri Yogev.

Yogev decided in November 2003 to commit a budgetary crime: to record this NIS 11 billion "below the line," so as not to increase either the state's reported expenditures or the reported deficit. A marvelous invention - enabling the state to have its cake and eat it too (as we wrote here on November 18, 2003).

Such creative accounting threatened to bust all budgetary frameworks, since this method could also be used for many other items, thereby turning the budget into a laughingstock. That is why it is so important that Haber closed the breach. The ironic part of this story is that Netanyahu supported Haber's decision. But he also supported Yogev when he made the opposite decision six months ago.