Kulanu party chief Moshe Kahlon expressed heavy doubts Sunday over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s commitment to offer him the job of finance minister following Israel’s elections on March 17.
Kahlon, who has refused to commit to recommending either Netanyahu or Zionist Union rival Issac Herzog to be prime minister after the Tuesday vote, has been portrayed as something of a kingmaker, with the ability to give either of the candidates an easier chance at forming a coalition.
On Saturday and Sunday, Netanyahu said in several interviews that he would make Kahlon finance minister, in a bid to woo the Kulanu head to his side.
But Kahlon,a former Likud minister, on Sunday morning rebuffed the advance, saying that Netanyahu’s promise couldn’t be trusted.
“Netanyahu had already promised me in the past [that I would head] the Israel Land Administration and the Finance Ministry, but did not keep [his promise],” Kahlon said, according to the Ynet news site.
“[The offer] is flattering, but it does not solve the desperate problems of Israeli society,” he added.
“With 48 hours left until the election, there was no doubt we would see spin like this,” he told Israel Radio.
Kahlon, who served as communications minister and later as welfare and social services minister before quitting the government in a surprise move in late 2012, had been slated to take over as head of the Israel Land Administration after the previous elections, with the goal of lowering housing prices in the same way that he cut mobile phone prices by reforming the telecom market.
However, a coalition agreement kept the administration under the jurisdiction of Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party, stymieing Netanyahu’s plan to appoint Kahlon.
Some speculated that Netanyahu did not overextend himself to keep Kahlon around at the time, seeing the latter as a rival.
In an Israel Radio interview Saturday, Netanyahu said Likud would not be able to form a new government without Kulanu, adding that together, the two parties could potentially bring down housing prices.
Kulanu has been polling between eight and ten seats, and has made economic issues the centerpiece of its campaign.
Netanyahu’s offer came after Jewish Home chief Naftali Bennett vowed that he would pledge his party’s support to Netanyahu after the election results are announced.
Polls showed incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu trailing his center-left rivals, though with neither side necessarily able to form a stable coalition.
The final two surveys released Friday night by private television channels gave the Zionist Union, headed by Labor leader Isaac Herzog, a four-seat lead over Netanyahu’s Likud.
A poll by Channel 10 showed Likud winning 20 seats, compared with 24 for the Zionist Union, while a survey issued by Channel 2 also showed Likud four seats behind, 22 to 26.
The results echoed surveys released earlier Friday — the final day that opinion polls could legally be published before Tuesday’s election — which both predicted a win for the Zionist Union.
But Israel’s complex electoral system, where many parties are vying for power, means the task of forming a new government does not automatically fall to the winning candidate or list.
Israel’s new premier will be the one who can build a coalition commanding a majority of at least 61 seats in the 120-strong Knesset.
That task will be all the harder as there are at least 11 party lists to reckon with from across the political spectrum as well as ultra-Orthodox and Arab parties.
Under the proportional system, voters choose party lists rather than individual candidates, with seats distributed according to the percentage of the vote received.
Analysts believe the next three days will be crucial, as 20 percent of voters have said they are undecided.
But it could take weeks of negotiations before the name of the new prime minister is known.
Friday’s polls put the Joint List, a newly formed alliance of Israel’s main Arab parties, in third place, with 13 seats and predicted that the centrist Yesh Atid could win 12 seats.
Although consistently trailing in the polls, Netanyahu has come out fighting, and analysts say he may be better placed than Herzog to form a coalition.