Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon fired senior lawmaker Yoav Gallant from his position as Housing and Construction Minister, ahead of the former general’s expected defection to the Likud.
Kahlon, the finance minister, met with Gallant in Jerusalem on Monday evening, and the two agreed that the Kulanu lawmaker would leave the party ahead of the April elections, according to a joint statement put out by the two.
“According to the agreement between Minister Kahlon and Minister Gallant, he will finish his term as minister of housing and as a member of the Knesset,” the statement said.
According to a coalition source, Gallant had told Kahlon of his decision to resign as a Kulanu MK in order to run in the Likud primaries, but the Kulanu chairman told him such a move would also require him to give up his cabinet portfolio.
Following the meeting, Gallant officially resigned from the Knesset, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to revoke his position as minister.
While the prime minister has the final say on cabinet appointments, coalition agreements state that he must cede to a request from a party head to fire one of their own ministers.
Gallant, who began his military career in the elite Shayetet 13 naval commando unit, is a highly regarded military strategist and was former defense minister Ehud Barak’s choice for the next IDF chief of staff in 2010.
Initially approved by the government, his appointment was subsequently canceled when questions arose over his possibly accidental appropriation of public lands for the construction of his home in the rural Galilee village of Amikam, some 20 minutes’ drive from Haifa.
He joined the newly created Kulanu ahead of the 2015 elections, but has signaled in recent weeks that he will be defecting to the ruling Likud party, in order to run as a candidate on its electoral list for the April 9 national poll.
Gallant, who is housing and construction minister, participated last week in a closed-door gathering of the Likud Central Committee, one of the most senior forums of the party.
Addressing the gathering, Gallant said he supported Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to appoint himself defense minister last month when Avigdor Liberman’s resigned from the position.
Shabtai Yossef, a member of the Likud Central Committee, greeted Gallant at the event, reportedly saying, “Mr. Minister, we welcome you. You are flesh of our flesh, an organic part of the Likud. Only [Gallant] can bring this number of people here.”
Others made similar statements that appeared to indicate Gallant’s imminent defection to the ruling party, a Hadashot news report said.
According to the report, in recent months Gallant has been meeting with various Likud officials, and the Central Committee event last week was organized specifically for his benefit.
Publicly, Gallant has denied that he is thinking of switching allegiances. At a conference in Jerusalem two weeks ago, he was asked if he will join Likud and answered, “If it is dependent on me, I will remain with Kulanu.”
Following the Monday meeting, Kahlon thanked Gallant for his time with the party and said he has made a significant contribution as both a Knesset member and a minister.
“The social revolutions that we have led over the last four years are a key element in our national strength and make a decisive contribution to the economic, employment and social security of the citizens of the State of Israel. I thank Gallant for his joint work and wishes him success in his future endeavors,” he said in the joint statement.
Gallant said he had been “privileged to serve the Israeli public as a minister and as a member of the cabinet,” stressing that he planned to “continue to contribute to the State of Israel, especially in the area in which I have dealt with Israel’s security and defense of the country and its residents.”
Kulanu will also part with lawmakers Rachel Azaria and Michael Oren, who both said this week that they will not seek a second Knesset term with the party.