Kahlon mulls defecting, PM dismisses possibility

Former Likud minister considers forming new party to counter "Likud-Beytenu"; polls show Kahlon could boost center-left bloc.

By
October 31, 2012 18:36
4 minute read.
PM Netanyahu and Moshe Kahlon

PM Netanyahu and Moshe Kahlon 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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As the center-left bloc struggles to find leadership that will bring it more votes and challenge the joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu, a candidate from the right may be stepping in to take the reins.

Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon commissioned a poll this week as part of deliberations to form a new political party, which showed he could get 20 seats on his own or 27 if he runs with former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni.

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Kahlon announced two weeks ago that he is taking a break from politics, but will remain active in Likud. He presided over Monday's Likud Central Committee meeting, hugging Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who said on Wednesday: "Kahlon clearly said to me he's staying in Likud, and told the public that he's staying in Likud, so I believe he will stay."

Though Kahlon planned to run with Likud in future elections, following the party's merger with Yisrael Beytenu, which was made official on Monday, the minister became concerned Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman would leave an indelible mark on Likud's character.

Meanwhile, Likud MKs appealed to Netanyahu on Wednesday night to convince Kahlon to stay in Likud. MK Carmel Shama-Hacohoen said he is sure that if Netanyahu, Liberman and Kahlon meet, they would be able to reach an agreement.

Both Kahlon's departure and Liberman's entry into Likud politics created a media firestorm due to the possibility that the party might alienate its grassroots Sephardic voter base, with a minister of Libyan descent leaving and one from the Former Soviet Union arriving in his stead.

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As such, Kahlon began researching the possibility of forming a new party on Tuesday, ordering a Smith Research poll. He commissioned a second poll for Thursday, and plans to make a final decision early next week.

The first poll shows that a party under Kahlon's leadership could get 20 seats in the next Knesset. If Kahlon were to form a party with Livni, it would get 27 seats, only three less than Likud-Beytenu in that scenario.

Sources close to Livni, who was also a Likud minister before Kadima was formed, say polls she commissioned show similar, but slightly lower numbers for a list with Kahlon.

In addition, according to the poll, should Kahlon run – with or without Livni – Shas and Yesh Atid would drop to under 10 seats.

However, polls that focus on a specific person tend to be disproportionately flattering to that candidate.

Still, while Livni's spokeswoman will not confirm or deny reports on her political future, the two are discussing the joint venture, but have yet to agree who would lead the new party.

The former Kadima leader met with former prime minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday to discuss their political futures, releasing a statement that "because Israel's situation has deteriorated in recent years, [they] must work to change the government." The two agreed to continue talking over the next few days. A spokesman for Olmert said the meeting had a "positive atmosphere." Olmert does not plan to make a final decision until after he returns from a trip abroad on November 15. Sources close to Livni said she is likely to announce her plans before that date.

Should Livni and Kahlon decide to run together, one or both of them would have to change their current political positions.

While Kahlon's socioeconomic opinions would fit in with the center-left of the political map, the Likud minister could butt heads with Livni on diplomatic issues, in which he is unabashedly right-wing.

Two months ago, Kahlon expressed support for the Levy Report, which states that West Bank settlements are legal under international law. According to Arutz Sheva, Kahlon called for the government to adopt the report and strengthen settlements, during a visit to Itamar, a settlement in Samaria.

Livni, however, said in response to the Levy Report that settlements are a diplomatic issue, not a legal one. She has spoken out against continuing settlement construction and government funding for towns in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Labor published a Mina Tzemach poll on Wednesday, which showed that if Kahlon runs in the party it would tie with Likud Beytenu for 32 seats each. Under the current situation, Likud would get 37 and Labor 23, according to the poll.

Sources close to the communications minister said Wednesday he is not considering moving to Labor.

Earlier Wednesday, Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich said she would love to see Kahlon return to politics.

"I'm saying this honestly, and not thinking about my party. It would serve exactly what I am trying to fight, the irrelevant dichotomy between diplomatic right and left," she said in an interview with Galei Yisrael. "There are no longer two blocs, right and left."

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