The Likud’s Moshe Kahlon announced on Saturday that he is not going to set up a new political party ahead of January’s elections.
“I said last month that I’m going to take a break from political life, and I’m sticking to that decision,” Kahlon said in a written statement. He explained that he had no intention of forming a new political bloc and that he would work to ensure Likud wins the elections.
The news came after several days of rumors that the popular communications minister, 51, who announced last month that he was taking a “time out” from politics, was contemplating starting a breakaway party that would have competed against the ruling Likud. Several polls suggested that he would have won between 10 and 20 seats as head of a new party in the upcoming elections.
However, Kahlon noted that he had not commissioned the flurry of polls that sought to find out how many seats a new party with him at the helm would garner in the January race.
“I was disappointed by [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and his conduct, but I’ve ultimately decided not to hurt the Likud,” Kahlon reportedly told colleagues, according to several Hebrew media reports.
Sources close to the prime minister responded to the news by stating they were glad to hear about Kahlon’s decision. “We are happy the ‘Kahlon festival’ is over. At the end, he too realized starting a new party was too big an undertaking for him,” an unnamed official said.
Kahlon’s dilemma now, reports said, is whether to go through with his planned break from politics — including a course of study at Harvard — or compete after all in the Likud primaries for a Knesset seat after the elections. Aides were said to be brokering a meeting between him and Netanyahu, which might resolve that issue.
Backtracking fast on talk of a breakaway, aides to Kahlon noted Saturday that he never publicly said he was contemplating starting a rival faction, and said he had never personally commissioned the series of surveys that examined his prospects.
Kahon was quoted Saturday as saying he could have found a niche for his politics, which are hawkish on diplomacy and liberal on socioeconomic issues. “Seventy percent of Israelis are right-wing on political issues, and 70% are left-wing on social issues,” Kahlon was said to have explained. “I found the middle ground; I could have taken votes from both of these groups.”
But ultimately, he reportedly made clear, he had not wanted to burn his bridges with the Likud and Netanyahu.
As communications minister, Kahlon championed a reform to the telecom industry that opened up the market and led to significantly cheaper cell phone price plans. Reports had indicated that his political platform would be based on similar socioeconomic reforms aimed at helping the poor and middle classes.
On Friday, MK Carmel Shama-HaCohen, considered to be a close confidant of the minister, told Army Radio that the Likud could hold onto Kahlon by offering him the position of finance minister — currently held by Yuval Steinitz.
“The solution is already on the table,” he said. “Propose Kahlon for finance minister.”
On Wednesday, a poll showed Kahlon could garner 20 seats if he started his own party, leading to speculation that the social-minded politician would indeed look to break away.
A poll released on Thursday by the Geocartography research institute showed a Kahlon-led party winning 10 seats in January’s elections. A poll for a Channel 2 current-affairs program on Thursday night also predicted 13 seats.
A poll published on Friday by Yedioth Ahronoth showed a Kahlon-led party getting 13 Knesset seats, significantly weakening the Likud-Beytenu political alliance, which would drop from a current 42 seats to 30.
Israeli daily Maariv reported on Friday that informal Netanyahu adviser Natan Eshel, who is close to Kahlon, was attempting to set up a meeting between the prime minister and Kahlon to convince him to stay within the Likud fold. The paper gave no source for the report, which Eshel denied.