The Prime Minister’s Office on Monday denied an unsourced Channel 12 news report that said Benjamin Netanyahu was considering tapping Likud MK Nir Barkat as finance minister instead of Moshe Kahlon in the coming days.
Kahlon is leaving political life and is not running in the March 2 elections. The Channel 12 report said appointing the popular former Jerusalem mayor to the post would be an attempt to attract moderate right-wing voters to the party.
The report said internal Likud polling showed Barkat could help pull in moderates who are swinging between Likud and its rival, the Blue and White party.
But the PMO said in its denial that “the agreement between the prime minister and Minister Kahlon is that the minister will remain in his post until the election.”
“Any report otherwise is untrue,” Netanyahu’s office said.
Barkat has cut short a visit to the US. Channel 12 said his return was tied to the plan to appoint him to the treasury.
But the network said many Likud ministers, including Yariv Levin, Israel Katz, Miri Regev and others, opposed the swift promotion of a junior MK to such a prominent position.
Barkat was first elected to the Knesset in April of last year, and due to the ongoing political gridlock that has led to a further two elections since then, has yet to do any significant work as a legislator.
In January, Kahlon announced he would not be running as a candidate for the Likud party in the upcoming March election, after a 15-year political career of the socioeconomic-minded, right-wing lawmaker.
Kahlon began his Knesset career in 2003 as a lawmaker for Likud, passing popular reforms as communications minister before leaving the party and taking a break from politics in 2013 amid rumors of tensions with Netanyahu.
He founded the Kulanu party in 2015, becoming the most senior partner in the government with 10 seats. In September, he ran on a joint ticket with Netanyahu’s Likud after his party lost more than half of its support in the April vote, winning just four Knesset seats.
He has served as finance minister since 2015.
Israel has had a transitional government since December 2018, when the Knesset voted to dissolve and go to early elections. A third round of elections will be held March 2, after the previous two failed to result in a government, a first in Israeli history.