Netanyahu’s Likud said seeking to merge with Kulanu party
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Netanyahu’s Likud said seeking to merge with Kulanu party

Finance Minister Kahlon’s party denies ‘rumors,’ says will run independently in April elections; ex-IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi reportedly weighing joining Likud

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in the Knesset on March 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in the Knesset on March 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly eyeing a political union with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, which was founded by the former Likud lawmaker as a more socially oriented alternative to the ruling party.

According to a report Wednesday by the Kan public broadcaster, Netanyahu’s aides over the last week have contacted Kahlon and urged him to join forces with Likud ahead of the April 9 elections.

The offer to Kahlon includes a promise to reappoint him finance minister in the next government and reserve several spots on the Likud slate for Kulanu members, according to the report.

A separate report Wednesday in the Maariv newspaper said that some Likud activists were deeply opposed to the apparent plan to merge with Kulanu, claiming that such a decision would mean the reserved spots for new MKs representing various Israeli districts would be pushed down the party list.

Eli Nagar, a member of the Likud Central Committee, which chooses the party’s slate for Knesset, has filed an urgent appeal against what he said is the party’s intention to change its internal regulations in preparation for the merger with Kulanu.

In his appeal, Nagar reportedly claimed that Likud will push the district representatives to spots unlikely to land them a seat in parliament, “perpetuating the current slate.” The second stage, he said, would be reserving a spot for Kahlon.

Kulanu MK Roy Folkman seen during a Knesset faction meeting on July 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Kulanu party pushed back against both reports, saying the Maariv report was a “false and absurd report designed to help some candidates in the Likud primaries.”

“Kahlon was established as an alternative to Likud, which lost its way on social issues,” the party said in a statement. “Kulanu will run separately, will increase its power and will continue to win for the benefit of all the citizens of Israel.”

Kulanu member Roy Folkman told the Kan public broadcaster on Thursday morning that no offer had been received from Netanyahu’s party, and that the reports were “rumors circulated by Likud since they understand they are failing on social issues.”

Meanwhile, former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi has become the latest ex-general to be said to be ready to enter politics, with the Israel Hayom daily reporting Wednesday night that his preferred party would be Likud.

Ashkenazi reportedly told his confidants recently that he hasn’t decided what his next step will be, but that if he joins politics he would want to do so as part of Netanyahu’s party.

Former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Unlike fellow ex-IDF chiefs Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon, who have registered new political platforms in which they are party leaders, Ashkenazi — whose public image was partly tarnished as part of the Harpaz affair almost a decade ago — is said to be seeking a more modest entry into political life.

A further problem for Ashkenazi would be that Yoav Gallant, whose appointment as chief of staff was canceled in 2010 — partly because of the so-called Harpaz affair — views Ashkenazi as part of the reason his nomination was thwarted, meaning there would be potential tension within the ruling party.

Ashkenazi retired from the military in 2010, after becoming embroiled in a succession scandal that highlighted a deep rift with then defense minister Ehud Barak and his choice for the top post — Gallant.

Minister of Housing and Construction Yoav Gallant speaks at a signing ceremony for an agreement to build new apartments in Haifa, March 19, 2018. (Flash90)

Boaz Harpaz, a former close confidant of Ashkenazi, was indicted in 2016 and convicted in November 2018 of forging and then leaking to the press a document in an effort to undermine Gallant.

Speculation has swirled around Ashkenazi possibly running for office since being largely cleared in the Harpaz affair in 2016.

Gallant was fired from the Kulanu party on Monday and switched to Likud — as he had been planning for months — and is preparing to run in the ruling party’s primaries in February ahead of the April elections.

On Tuesday, cabinet ministers approved the former housing minister’s appointment as the new immigration minister — a move that enables Gallant to remain at the cabinet table despite having lost his Knesset seat and the housing portfolio as part of his exit from Kulanu.

Despite the animosity between Gallant and Ashkenazi, Netanyahu is said to be interested in the latter joining his party.

Raoul Wootliff and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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