Kahlon, Nothing More Than Netanyahu’s Pawn

Kulanu, which promised to represent the middle path in Israeli society, is the only partner in the coalition that betrays its voters.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Reuters

An extraterrestrial who happened upon the intensive, if not obsessive, deliberation over the momentous question of Zehava Galon’s next moves would be convinced that the fate of the government of Israel, if not of the entire Middle East, was in the hands of Meretz. The best commentators have pondered whether the leftist Zionist party should adhere to the two-state solution and join the Zionist Union, or issue a bill of divorce to the Zionist idea and merge with the Joint Arab List. One would think that this tiny party held the key to changing the government.

It seems that everyone has forgotten that the last election gave this key to Kulanu, a young party that presented itself as the “sane right,” leaning toward the center. On the eve of the election Kulanu’s founding leader, Moshe Kahlon, differentiated himself from Likud’s extremist wing and called himself a “Likudnik with the values of a Likudnik, like it was in Menachem Begin’s time.”

In order to resemble the old-time Likud, Kahlon chose candidates with positions ranging from pragmatic to moderate. As heirs of Begin – the leader who withdrew from Sinai, took care to respect the Supreme Court and protected Israel’s Arab minority – Kahlon promised to guard Israeli democracy.

Before the polling stations closed, figures in the Zionist Union still entertained the idea that Kahlon would recommend to President Reuven Rivlin that Isaac Herzog be tapped to form the new government. When it became clear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be staying put, a few incurable optimists in the peace camp (such as this writer) persisted in the illusion that Kahlon and company would block Bibi and company’s headlong dash to the delusional edge of the racist margins.

That illusion, too, disintegrated. If the heads of Zionist Union became Netanyahu’s unneeded opposition leftovers, then Kulanu is a thin fig leaf in the coalition. Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, who never misses an opportunity to lash out at anyone he suspects of being a leftist and occasionally remembers to criticize Netanyahu, ran out of ammunition against the collaborators of the Bezalel Smotrich-Yariv Levin government. And people have the nerve to accuse Galon of opportunism and of betraying her party’s principles.

Netanyahu is the leader of a right-wing party that is becoming more extreme. Naftali Bennett continues to provide the goods to the robbers from Beit El, and the ultra-Orthodox parties are as usual loyal to the interests of their constituency. Kulanu, which promised to represent the middle path in Israeli society, is the only partner in the coalition that betrays its voters.

Kulanu’s platform promises to pursue an arrangement with the Palestinians on the basis of two states. The slate’s No. 2, Yoav Galant, called in an election rally for settling for construction in the large settlement blocs, in order to allow the Palestinians to maintain the territorial contiguity that is essential for operating as an independent entity. Today, Kahlon, Israel’s finance minister, is a member of the inner cabinet that is renewing building in the West Bank, and Galant, as construction minister, stands at attention when Netanyahu promises to approve the building of hundreds of new residential units for the criminals of Beit El’s Dreinoff neighborhood, recompense to people who assault police officers and insult judges. It is adding insult to injury, and Kulanu’s 10 Knesset members are partners to it.

Kulanu isn’t “Likud with the old-time values,” it’s part of Likud with dangerous values. Kahlon isn’t an imitation of Begin, he’s Netanyahu’s pawn.

The writer is a senior columnist for the Al-Monitor website’s Israel Pulse.