The Center-Right returns: Kahlon’s list
Former Likudnik Moshe Kahlon is rumored to be forming a new party. Kahlon served as Communications Minister and Welfare and Social Services Minister in years past. He has a good name in the public sphere, having a reputation for reducing cell phone costs for average Israelis. Kahlon is known for being honest and straight-forward. His level of respectability and ability to draw consensus from disparate political factions shows through when as respected personalities as those named below are willing to tolerate speculation that they might eventually join his list.
Former Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren is a widely recognized expert on US-Israel relations and has busied himself in recent weeks defending Israel before the onslaught of the international press. Oren, who at one time endorsed a unilateral withdrawal from the Shomron and Yehudah (the West Bank), has taken a number of controversial stands over the years. Oren would bring a prominent name name to Kahlon’s list.
Many Israeli political personalities are also rumored to be joining Kahlon, including former IDF Southern Commander General Yoav Galant, Professor Manuel Trajtenberg, Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor, respected Professor Adina Bar-Shalom (daughter of the late Sephardic Rabbi and Shas Party inspiration Ovadiah Yosef), and Rami Levy and Avi Gabai (supermarket and Bezeq business leaders respectively).
While Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu holds Likud to the center, the remainder of the party is perceived to be much to the far right. Bibi is certainly going to seek reelection in the 20th Knesset, elections are planned for 2017 but may come sooner. He will probably also lead that government. What will happen to Likud when Bibi retires? Who in Likud today can command Bibi’s grip on the Likudniks? Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has a bright future but it is unlikely that he will be able to lead Likud as Bibi has. Following Bibi’s departure, Likud will likely lurch far to the right.
Personalities like Danny Danon and Moshe Feiglin, have been jockeying for media attention during the late conflict. Their messages have included rightist rhetoric ranging from the reoccupation of Gaza to paying Gazans to depart, both which do irreparable harm to Israel’s international image. It is clear that a Likud led by either of these men would be a Likud to the right of Attila the Hun. Danon and Feiglin cannot relate well with the political sensibilities of the Israeli public, are not well known for building the kind of political bridges that help parties form governments, and are not well respected.
Yisrael Beteinu (Israel is Our Home) has strong credentials as a secular immigrant party, but is also very nationalist. Bayit HaYehudi (Home for the Jews) draws much of its support from settlers and younger right-leaning voters. Neither of these parties is likely to lead a government in their current form.
With no viable center-right party will voters look to the left or center-left? Yair Lapid was a journalist and son of the late Shinui (Change) Party leader Yosef Lapid. In the 2013 election he struck out for the center-left when he formed his Yesh Atid (There is a Future) Party. Lapid surprised many pundits by earning 19 seats with the help of late breaking voters in the 19th Knesset elections. Yesh Atid is a party of professionals and political novices that supports the secular agenda, equality of military service, social spending, and an end to the special priviledges of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Haredi population. The party also supports engagement in the peace process.
Lapid has recently taken a dive in the polls. Peacers are miffed that he has remained loyal to Bibi during the late conflict, secular supporters feel that he has not gone far enough to advance the secular agenda, and the Finance Ministry position can take its toll on any political personality as everyone has a row with the guy who has to tell them that there simply isn’t enough money to go about. The current government’s deficit busting austerity measures were not any help – until it turned out that as a result the government has more than enough funds to pay for Operation Protective Edge without borrowing; to Lapid’s credit.
As for the Israeli left, division is the word of the day. Sharing the center-left spot with Lapid is Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah (The Movement) Party. Livni’s party is likewise dedicated to the peace process and the secular agenda. Livni is known for her strong stance on national security as much as for her pragmatism and willingness to negotiate. She has recently gained attention for her plan to work with the Palestinian Authority and international community to rebuild and demilitarize the Gaza Strip. A plan that if successful, would create a stable security environment for Israel south of the Golan.
The traditional left, the Alignment/Labor Party, shows some promise but has a long way to go to regain the confidence of voters. Labor’s young leader Isaac Herzog is desperately trying to bring his party back in competition for government, the right should be keen to remain competitive. Herzog has been careful in his criticism of Operation Protective Edge and has called for early elections in the wake of the late conflagration. Bibi’s approval ratings have been in a nose dive and Herzog would like nothing more than to capitalize on the current unpopularity of both Netanyahu and Lapid. It is probable that elections will wait until 2017 when they are currently scheduled.
Kahlon may be the future of the Israeli right. A pragmatic young leader with a vision for a strong but not ultra-nationalist security posture, prosperous economy, and improved economic conditions for average Israelis would easily gain momentum among Israeli voters. Kahlon’s Party would hearken back to the early zionist Ze’ev Jabotinsky who believed in a modern, liberal, and prosperous Israel.