Netanyahu, Steinitz refute reports of split

'Globes' reported on tension between the two men, and the possibility that there would be a reshuffle among the Likud’s cabinet ministers.

311_Yuval Steinitz (photo credit: Tamar Matsafi)
311_Yuval Steinitz
(photo credit: Tamar Matsafi)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz vigorously denied reports Sunday that the housing crisis had caused a rift between them that could lead to Steinitz’s firing.
Globes reported last week on tension between the two men, and the possibility that there would be a reshuffle among the Likud’s cabinet ministers.
Netanyahu: Gov't needs to simplify housing procedures Steinitz: Housing prices likely to drop by end of year
Yediot Aharonot followed-up on Sunday with a report that Likud ministers had urged Netanyahu to fire Steinitz because of damage he is causing to the government and Likud.
While Yediot said the main candidates to replace Steinitz were Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon, Globes reported Sunday evening that Netanyahu had already decided on appointing the popular, socioeconomicallyminded Kahlon and shifting Steinitz to the Justice Ministry in place of Yaakov Neeman, who would return to his law practice.
“Netanyahu will do everything possible not to fall, and his answer is Kahlon as finance minister,” a source close to the prime minister was quoted as saying. “The die is cast. Netanyahu is just waiting for the right time to make the move.”
After Netanyahu sent his spokesmen and top aides to radio stations to deny the reports, his office released a statement Netanyahu himself said in a closed-forum, praising Steinitz and blaming the reports on political officials acting out of their own self-interest.
“Yuval Steinitz is a terrific finance minister,” Netanyahu said. “I have no intention to replace him. The excellent results of the Israeli economy prove it.”
Steinitz told Israel Radio he meets with the prime minister every day and he hadn’t seen any tension between them. He called the reports “laughable.”
“Every time there are demonstrations and pressure, there are those who want to create an impression of tension,” Steinitz said. “There is no tension. There is no rift. We work well together for the good of the economy and society.”
Sources close to Steinitz said offices of multiple Likud ministers had denied that their minister was the one who had attacked Steinitz. Likud central committee members wrote Likud MKs on Sunday urging them to not “abandon Yuval.”
An anonymous Likud minister was quoted as comparing Steinitz to the ill-fated appointments of Amir Peretz as defense minister and Shlomo Ben- Ami as public security minister.
But the leaders of the protests against the housing crisis said Sunday that they actually had no problem with Steinitz, and their anger was directed at Netanyahu.
“The problem has been going on for a while, so it really doesn’t matter whether the finance minister is Steinitz A or B,” a spokesman for the Tel Aviv tent city told Army Radio.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman defended Steinitz to reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office ahead of Sunday’s cabinet meeting.
“The housing problem didn’t start yesterday or the day before – and it won’t be solved tomorrow,” Lieberman said. “It will take time. The finance minister deserves support. Politicians often try to hitch a ride on demonstrations.”