Moshe Kahlon, the former Likud minister and the up-and-comer of the next general elections, said Friday he was not opposed to territorial concessions if they were to bring about a peace accord with Palestinians, and said he would not miss such an opportunity if it were feasible.
Speaking to young Israelis in a Q&A at a Tel Aviv pub, Kahlon described himself as “center, a little right” in his political views, and said the current government was exhibiting “helplessness” on the diplomatic front.
Kahlon, a former communications minister popular for reforming the Israeli communications field, increasing competition and greatly lowering cellphone call prices, left the Likud before the last elections in 2013. This week he announced he would form a new party to run in the next elections on March 17.
His as-yet unnamed party has been polled in recent days as winning between 10-13 seats in the next Knesset, a number that could rise higher still if Kahlon frames himself as the new face of the Israeli center.
Kahlon’s rumored tenuous relations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been cited as a major reason for his decision to leave Likud. In his statements Friday, Kahlon made some barbed allusions to his former party and its leader.
“I come from Likud. The real Likud knows how to make peace, to give up territory, and on the other hand is conservative and responsible,” Kahlon told pub goers. “My world view is that of the real Likud that truly came and safeguarded the Land of Israel. When it needed to make peace with the greatest Arab nation (Egypt) it did so, and when it needed to compromise, it compromised.”
Kahlon’s statements appeared to signify a change in his position. In the past, he was on record as an opponent of Palestinian statehood and the dismantling of settlements.
Despite his apparent misgivings with Netanyahu and his party, Kahlon said he would not at this point rule out forming a coalition with any party following the elections.
“I will join anyone who will enable my agenda,” he said. “I won’t rule out anyone. In my opinion he who invalidates is himself invalid.”
Kahlon has been said to be weighing a partnership with recently sacked finance minister Yair Lapid and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman to counter Netanyahu’s reported alliance with Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.
According to a Channel 10 report on Wednesday, Kahlon, Liberman and Lapid have been discussing a potential alliance for weeks, in anticipation of Netanyahu calling for early elections.
While the TV report indicated that the chances were slim to none that the three parties — Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beytenu and the not-yet-named Kahlon faction — would formally and fully join forces, it said that the three could cooperate in other ways, including presenting a united front on whom to recommend for the premiership following the elections, and agreeing to not target each other during the campaign in the run-up to March 17.
What the three have in common is a desire to see someone other than Netanyahu at the helm, the report said.
Former interior minister Gideon Sa’ar has also been reported as a potential challenger to Netanyahu, with several Hebrew media outlets saying he could be weighing a return to politics to try and beat the prime minister in the contest to lead Likud. Likud supporters had urged him to consider the idea, and he had “not rejected it,” Army Radio reported Friday morning. Most political analysts, however, doubt that Sa’ar, who only resigned from his job and quit politics a few weeks ago, will be making a comeback.
Meanwhile Hatnua party leader Tzipi Livni, Israel’s justice minister up until her dismissal this week, said Friday she expected to join forces with Labor in the coming election, as has been reported in the media.
“There will be a joint list, because it is necessary and will create a better result than if each ran separately,” she told Channel 2 News. The main issue to be considered, she added, was not one of ego but of which cooperative effort could gain the most votes in a bid to replace Netanyahu at the country’s helm.
“We need to join forces and create a situation where there a dynamism and hope,” she said. “The moment there is hope of replacing Netanyahu — it’ll happen.”
Livni and Labor chief Isaac Herzog have reportedly discussed the possibility over the past few days. According to Channel 10, Livni would get the number two spot on the list and two more seats for party members Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz among the top 10.
A Globes poll gave a Labor-Hatnua alliance 24 seats, Channel 10 said.
Some reports have indicated that Kadima party leader Shaul Mofaz will also join the Labor Party.
Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked said Friday she would not rule out party leader Naftali Bennett becoming Israel’s next prime minister.
“I think he has what it takes,” she said at a Galilee conference. “You can never know in an election. No one thought Yair Lapid would get 19 seats (in the 2013 elections).” She stressed however that “what is important to us is that there is a strong right-wing bloc.”
Shaked said her party would seek control of the Justice Ministry in a new coalition.
Jewish Home and the Likud are said to have signed a “surplus votes” agreement — to ensure that no votes cast for the two parties would be lost when the Knesset seats are allocated after elections under Israel’s system of pure proportional representation.
Lapid and Livni were sacked as finance minister and justice minister, respectively, on Tuesday, moments before Netanyahu announced that he would move to dissolve the Knesset and go to elections.
On Wednesday, the Knesset voted to dissolve itself and party leaders set new elections for March 17.
Netanyahu alleged that he was forced to end the coalition because Lapid and Livni had attempted a “putsch.” This was denied by both ministers. Lapid said Netanyahu’s allegation was “an absurdity.