Common sense and public opinion polls are at a loss to explain what drove Benjamin Netanyahu to unite Likud with Yisrael Beiteinu. But you don't have to be a political whiz like Arthur Finkelstein to understand what the prime minister has to gain by separating Moshe Kahlon from Likud and fielding him at the head of a "social" party.
Forming a joint list with Yisrael Beiteinu will at best leave the rightist bloc the same size. In contrast, a party headed by Kahlon could increase the bloc's strength by half a dozen Knesset seats, if not more. A Geocartography poll confirms that the man who rose to glory by fixing an outrageous distortion in the cellular market - which is no more than he should have done - could take a significant bite out of the center-left bloc, i.e. the bloc that does not support Netanyahu.
It may all be my imagination. But the circumstantial evidence indicates that Kahlon's retirement from Likud, the flattering surveys and the possibility of his heading a "social" party in the upcoming election are no more than a typical Bibi-style political ploy.
After burying the Trajtenberg report on socioeconomic reform and signing a pact with Avigdor Lieberman, the man who scorned the social protest, Netanyahu rightly fears he will lose votes to Shelly Yacimovich, whose Labor Party acquired protest leaders Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli. Bibi needs a partner with a socially-oriented image and a hawkish agenda. A partner who is not likely to join the rival camp, and who, a day after the elections, will come home to "Likud Beiteinu," bringing a handsome dowry of Knesset seats.
What would induce a popular minister, whose name is synonymous with "making it," to decide at the age of 52, at the height of his success, that he needs peace and quiet? We've seen politicians flee sinking ships, but there is no sign of a storm that could topple Likud from power.
Some say Kahlon feared his popularity, which was a thorn in his Likud colleagues' side, would be a stumbling block in the Likud primary. But it stands to reason that the prime minister who gave the defense portfolio to a man Likud loathes (and may even leave it in his hands ) would have promised the cellular king everything he could dream of in the next government.
Labor's voters have good reason to shift their support from Yacimovich to Kahlon. Yacimovich was among the first to express regret over Kahlon's announcement that he was retiring from political life.
"Kahlon was an excellent minister whose heart was in the right place, with a deep commitment to the public rather than to a handful of rich people, whom he did not hesitate to fight when necessary," Yacimovich eulogized him.
It's a pity she didn't ask Social Affairs Ministry veterans what their opinion of the "excellent minister" was and what he did for the poor, aside from letting them talk themselves to death cheaply on their cell phones.
It's a pity someone didn't remind Labor's leader that Kahlon is even more right-wing than Netanyahu. Last year, he called for applying Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank if the United Nations recognized a Palestinian state. He demanded that the cabinet adopt the Edmond Levy report, which said the West Bank is not occupied territory. He supported a bill to bypass the High Court of Justice to prevent the evacuation of the illegal outpost of Migron and recommended accelerating construction in settlements in the heart of the West Bank.
On the other hand, the whole Kahlon affair may be nothing more than another balloon that will burst without leaving a trace.
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