Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Moshe Kahlon went into Tuesday’s election with polls showing him as a kingmaker with a small number of Knesset seats wedged directly between two blocks. Both sides needed him to complete a coalition, so he could enjoy a bidding war.
By Wednesday morning, it became clear that one of those blocks, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was far larger, and there would be nobody to bid on the Left.
Still, Kulanu chairman Kahlon and his 10 seats are a natural partner for the Right, and he fully expects the prime minister to make good on his pre-election promise to make him finance minister, despite the fact prominent Likud ministers Yuval Steinitz and Israel Katz both have their eyes on the portfolio.
Without Kahlon’s support, Netanyahu would have to turn to Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, with whom he has frosty relations, and figure out a way to get him to sit with the ultra-Orthodox parties. Both Netanyahu and the Zionist Union have ruled out a unity government, so that prospect does not threaten Kahlon’s standing either.
Kahlon not only expects the Finance portfolio, but is also vying for the Construction Ministry, which houses the Israel Lands Authority he has promised to break apart, and perhaps the Welfare and Social Services Ministry for his No. 3 candidate, Eli Alalouf.
Unlike several politicians who waded into the media right after the election, Kahlon spent Wednesday regrouping and preparing his negotiation strategy for the coalition. He may wait until Sunday to start formal talks.
One question mark in the process will be Kulanu’s No. 4, former ambassador Michael Oren.
Though Oren was appointed to his post in Washington by Netanyahu, he harshly criticized steps he saw as detrimental to the US-Israel relationship, including the prime minister’s famous speech to Congress on March 3.
Oren, who is Kulanu’s diplomatic voice, has said that it is crucial to keep the option of a two-state solution open, even if one is not imminent. Israel must avoid give the appearance this it is the party blocking progress, he has argued.
Whether it will be difficult for him to sit in a right-wing government led by a man who just promised that no Palestinian state will arise on his watch remains to be seen. Given that Kulanu’s central goal is economic reform and not diplomacy, however, he may have little choice.