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Many analysts thought it was a cunning move by Netanyahu, his political-rival-turned-coalition-partner, to push him into the financial hot seat, knowing full well that the economy was in a much worse shape than he had let on ahead of the election.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Netanyahu had set him up. It would be the correct move in politics,” said Reuven Hazan, head of political science at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
“If anyone thinks that in politics you put the right person in the right position, rather than put your biggest challenger in the worst possible position, then that person knows nothing.”
While Lapid faced a deluge of abuse last week after unveiling his first budget, a smiling Netanyahu was enjoying a succession of photo opportunities during a visit to China.
Ministers normally have six months to prepare an annual budget, but the January election meant Lapid had just six weeks to put together a package covering both 2013 and 2014.
Former Bank of Israel deputy governor, Avia Spivak, suggested it would have been wiser for Lapid to hold off on 2014 deliberations. “We needed more time to assess the situation,” said Spivak, who teaches at Ben Gurion University.
Lapid ploughed ahead regardless, and discovering a 35 billion shekel ($9.6 billion) hole in the accounts, he turned to his favourite means of communication, Facebook, to explain the predicament.
Warning of tough times ahead, he said that he had hoped to “renovate the house”, but had found instead that there was a “monstrous overdraft” to pay off because the previous owners had taken “out huge loans and had a party”.
Such folksy language had helped win him voters in January, and his supporters confidently expected that he would find the cash by taxing the super rich, scaling back benefits accrued by some of Israel’s biggest firms and pegging back union benefits.