Analysis

Netanyahu Rival's Latest Trap Nearly Caused Cold War to Turn Hot

But Netanyahu may be planning retaliatory measures of his own

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at the Knesset, January 2017.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at the Knesset, January 2017. Olivier Fitoussi

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon didn’t wait. On Tuesday, the day after Passover, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and our politicians skipped from one Mimouna celebration to another, stuffing themselves with lethal quantities of fat and sugar, Kahlon called a semisecret press conference, and let loose: a basketful of sweets and cookies for the people who dwell in Zion. A political-economic move that is all Kahlon.

Kahlon, who has already forgotten what is was like to bask in the limelight alone, without the prime minister crashing his party, has learned his lesson. Although Kahlon presented a significant, serious economic plan involving billions of shekels, his office did not notify the Prime Minister’s Office about the planned news conference.

Kahlon’s team was fed up with the uninvited guest and his deceptions, and decided to treat him the way he treats them. The days of getting together over a plate of hummus are over. From now on it’s cold war and a cold shoulder.

And yes, they also had an account to settle. At the end of the broadcasting corporation saga, from which Kahlon emerged by the skin of his teeth, beaten and bruised, he promised that Netanyahu would hear from him yet. And on Tuesday the prime minister heard from him, in spades.

Kahlon’s move on Tuesday could have led to a massive blowout, all the way to a coalition crisis and early elections. But Kahlon had decided: If Netanyahu held back, Kahlon would give him some credit. But if Netanyahu went wild and torpedoed the program, it would be clear to everyone exactly who was responsible for thwarting a plan to put thousands of shekels into the average family’s pocket over the next two years.

Netanyahu apparently understood the gist of the trap. After a silence of a few hours, figures in Netanyahu’s inner circle said that the finance minister’s plan was “in the right direction and would be considered positively.”

From this we are given to understand that the prime minister is planning a few retaliatory measures of his own. After all, most of the government and the Knesset is still under his control. He can ask for various changes in the plan, trim it a little here and there, perhaps impose a few conditions. Netanyahu can still drive Kahlon up the wall insisting on this and that in order to guarantee himself a place on the bandwagon.

Before Passover, Kahlon refrained from reacting to placating messages from the Prime Minister’s Office. On Tuesday, we found out why. He wanted to deliver the second strike before Netanyahu got back to normal, stroking him and talking cooperation and friendship. He knows that ritual, ad nauseam.

The bottom line: The conflict between the two, which on Tuesday reached a tie – you humiliated me in the broadcasting corporation affair when you set the Broadcasting Authority employees against me and made me the bad guy, and I repaid you and Likud in kind by not telling you about my dramatic proposal – is not over. Mutual deterrence has been preserved.