Newsletter : 13fx0124.txt
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Prime Minister Netanyahu May Keep Defense Ministry for Himself
Israel politics are in for a major shakeup. New faces will dominate the next cabinet
under Binyamin Netanyahu, while 52 of the 19th Knesset members are new and more youthful
faces. Netanyahu is pondering keeping responsibility for defense,DEBKAfile disclosed. This
would upset outgoing Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon's expectation of defense in the
post-election Netanyahu government.
Since the results of Israel's general election of Tuesday, were out, Netanyahu (whose
Likud-Beitenu garnered only 31 seats) has been locked in intensive negotiations with Yair
Lapid, whose party came second with a stunning 19 seats, on the shape of the next
government. They have also discussed inviting retired defense minister Ehud Barak to stay
on as a non-political expert.
For now, DEBKAfile reports, Lapid who is in a position to pick and choose the cabinet
post he wants, has turned down the post of finance minister for himself, while admitting
to his friends that he wouldn't say no to the foreign ministry.
Upon hearing this, ex-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, said cynically Wednesday that
the finance ministry was right down Lapid's street in view of the strong social and
economic agenda to which he committed his Future party. His party might resent his
abdication of those goals, Lieberman commented. Wednesday night, Lapid himself put paid to
a chorus led by Labor's Shelley Yacimovitch for his Future to join the left-of-center and
the Arab parties to block Netanyahu's efforts to build a coalition government.
Instead, he welcomed Binyamin Netanyahu as next prime minister. "I was glad to hear
Netanyahu referring to all the things I have been aiming for," he said to reporters. There
will be no opposition bloc - certainly not with Hanan Zouabi," said Lapid.
Netanyahu, speaking after the elections, spoke favorably of some of the objectives
Lapid's Future had set itself: Starting with averting the Iranian nuclear threat, he went
on to speak of equalizing the burden between the secular and ultra-religious communities,
bringing down prices, providing affordable housing and reforming the system of government.
Lapid refrained from answering when he was asked whether he would serve in the same
cabinet as the ultra-religious Shas party (11 seats), which is a longstanding coalition
partner of Likud and with which Netanyahu conducted separate negotiations Wednesday.
This dual track opened up the possibility of establishing a government led by Netanyahu
and Lapid in two stages: In the first, this duo would be joined by the pro-settlement
Jewish Home and its head, the high-tech millionaire Naftali Bennett (11) and Kadima led by
Shaul Mofaz, which Wednesday night was poised to scrape past the threshold with two seats.
This setup would command a slim majority of 63, enough to get the 2013-2014 state budget
passed by the new Knesset. This task defeated the outgoing government because some of its
provisions were unacceptable to Shas and so triggered the early election.
After that, Shas would be invited to join the government on the basis of the guidelines
established in stage one, and expand its parliamentary majority to 75. With Torah Judaism
(7) aboard too, the third Netanyahu government would command a comfortable 82
Bennett expects his Jewish Home party to win a 12th seat when the army ballots are
counted before official election results are released Thursday. He would be strongly in
line for one of the economic portfolios in the new government, commerce and industry, for
instance, or even finance.
Tzipi Livni, whose Hatenuah Party fell far short of her expectations and wound up with
6 seats, has been after Lapid to set up a joint front for the cabinet negotiations with
Netanyahu. She anticipates his gaining the post of acting or vice prime minister plus a
key cabinet post. She would then walk through the door to her former post as foreign
minister, or so she hopes.he Future party leader and the incoming prime minister have not
commented on this plan.
Want to Buy a Home in Israel? Better Get Yourself a Large Fortune
Housing prices are so high that the prime minister highlighted his efforts to bring
them down by saying less than 48 hours before polls opened that he would name Moshe Kahlon
- who gained fame as the minister who led the shake-up of the cell phone industry - as
chairman of the Israel Lands Administration.
If Kahlon eventually takes the job, the extent of his challenge is easily illustrated
by the latest International Housing Affordability Survey, which compares home prices in
urban areas around the world. The survey, done by the U.S. organization Demographia, uses
a very simple rubric to determine housing affordability: the "median multiple," that is,
the median house price in the area under study, divided by the gross (before tax) annual
median household income in the same area.
At its simplest, a grade of up to 3 - meaning that one can buy a home for the
equivalent of three years of one's annual pre-tax income - means you are talking about
affordable housing. Any grade above 5.1 is considered to be "severely unaffordable."
The survey focused mainly on English-speaking countries: the United States, Australia,
Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. The most expensive of
these turned out to be, not surprisingly, Hong Kong: a small, crowded and wealthy island
whose median multiple was around 13.5 - in other words, off-the-scale expensive when it
comes to purchasing a home. The United States and Ireland, after a 50% plunge in home
prices from their respective peaks, turned in "moderately affordable" median multiples of
3.1 and 3.2, respectively. In New Zealand, one of the least crowded countries on the
planet, the multiple median for housing prices is nevertheless a "severely unaffordable"
And Israel? Since Israel was not included in the Demographia survey we tried to do our
own calculation of the multiple median for housing prices here. According to National
Insurance Institute figures for 2010, the median monthly pre-tax income in Israel per
person is around NIS 5,500 ($2062), and NIS 9,800 per household, or NIS 117,600 a year
The median price of an apartment in Israel is slightly under NIS 900,000 ($241,286).
That puts the multiple median at 7.7, higher than the 7.2 at which Israeli was pegged
using data from 2009. Israel is not yet as expensive as Hong Kong, but relative to
Demographia's international study, home prices here are insane.
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