Likud's Kahlon Decides Not to Run in Upcoming Israeli Elections

A poll conducted on Wednesday projected a party led by Kahlon would win 20 Knesset seats.

Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon declared last night that he will not run in the upcoming Israeli elections and will support Likud and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, foiling speculation that he would run as the head of a new party.

Kahlon recently announced he was going to take time off from political life. Over the weekend he examined a new poll that had been conducted for him and apparently decided, after discussing the matter with family and friends, to stay out of the race.

However, Kahlon reportedly felt pressure to drop his bid for independent leadership from people close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others. "I have announced I am taking time out from political life. I will not run for the 19th Knesset and I am firm in my decision," Kahlon said last night. "It is not by chance that you did not hear me mention a new party this week. The reason is because there was no new party. There were requests, there were polls, which, contrary to reports, I did not commission. There were pressures. And I, as is my way, listened to everyone - but I did not change my mind. "Likud is my home, my political and social home," he continued. "In the coming elections I will work for victory by Likud headed by Netanyahu." Kahlon added that that he would take an active role in the "100-day team" to be put together after the election "to formulate reforms that will ease the cost of living and change the system of governing."

A senior Likud official criticized Kahlon for "wasting in one week the public credit he had. It is not clear where there is a point in involving him in the upcoming Likud campaign, as he had intended before he declared he was leaving [politics]."

Labor Party chairwoman MK Shelly Yacimovich said in a statement last night: "Now, as it turns out again and again, there is only one social-minded, credible, strong and true force that cares about the public, and that is the Labor Party. According to Yacimovich, eight percent of Likud voters and five percent of Yisrael Beiteinu voters have already moved to Labor.

On Thursday Kahlon received the results of an opinion poll commissioned for him by his associate Shimon Sussan, predicting Kahlon would garner 20 Knesset seats. But a new poll and others published over the weekend showed fewer seats for a Kahlon-led party.

A Kahlon associate told Haaretz the survey that Kahlon's people had commissioned showed a Kahlon list "would win no less than 13 seats." Sources in Kahlon's circle said Netanyahu's decision to join forces with Avigdor Lieberman raises their concern that the socioeconomic policies of the next government would be "capitalist, aggressive, and brutal."

Kahlon reportedly felt pressure from the prime minister and others to drop his bid for a separate party. Lieberman, Knesset Speaker MK Reuven Rivlin, and Netanyahu's close adviser Natan Eshel reportedly urged Kahlon not to establish a party that would compete with Likud.

Kahlon had told his inner circle over the past week that even if he did run independently, he would declare his support for Netanyahu as prime minister, but would try to rein in the economic policies in the new Likud Beiteinu constellation. Last week, Kahlon held telephone consultations with public and political figures that are focused on social issues and asked them if they were interested in joining a list led by him. However, people close to Kahlon helped him over the weekend to extricate himself from the corner he had painted himself into. They said that from the outset they, not Kahlon, had originated the idea of a separate party.

Nir Kafri