After spurning Netanyahu, Liberman likely to seek Kahalon’s embrace

ANALYSIS
by HERB KEINON

What timing.

With Grad rockets falling on Beersheba, rocks and petrol bombs flying in Jerusalem, rioting in the Israeli-Arab sector, and an occasional mortar falling on the Golan Heights from Syria, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman decided precisely now to break up his partnership with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Likud party.

What that means immediately is that in addition to all of the above, Netanyahu must now also spend his time and energy worrying about the possible break-up of his coalition.

Liberman’s decision did not just happen over night, but was something in the works for some time. But now he has a good ideological excuse: the government’s “tepid,” in his mind, response to the recent events and the rocket fire from Gaza.

Liberman has made clear he wants to see a much stronger IDF response – even the take over of the Gaza Strip – while Netanyahu is counseling prudence and caution and restraint.

Liberman is competing with Naftali Bennett and the Bayit Yehudi party for the right wing votes, and a political move like this – over the issue of whether Israel should act tougher against Hamas – is bound to cast him in the mind of some of those voters as a person standing up for his principles. Bennett, by the way, is also calling for a more robust response.

When the polls come out over the weekend it will become apparent whether the public perceived Liberman’s move as such, or – conversely – as little more than an opportunistic attempt by a seasoned politician taking advantage of a national crisis for political gain.

As this political saga evolves, the public should begin getting used to the the names Liberman and Moshe Kahalon appearing in tandem.

Kahalon, the popular ex-Likud Communications minister – the man responsible for making cell phones affordable and, as such, a hero for many of the middle class – will certainly field a party ticket in the next elections.

The two men are close friends, and it is not in the realm of fantasy to imagine Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party forming the same type of pact with Kahalon’s new party the next time around, as he did with Likud in the last elections.

Liberman gives Kahalon a wider public — Russian speakers — and a way to break out of the niche as a narrow, Sephardi social issues party. And Kahalon gives Liberman – whose voter base is shrinking as the years pass and the Russian immigrants of the 1990s no longer feel the need for an immigrant-based party — a way to extend his reach.

The two men are close friends, and a Channel 10 poll in April had a Kahlon-Liberman party winning 22 seats – more than Likud’s 19, or Labor’s 18.

It is hard to imagine that poll was not somewhere on Liberman’s mind when he decided Monday, of all times, to break from Netanyahu over what he could claim was an ideological issue – how to respond to Hamas in Gaza.

The countdown to new elections has, despite Liberman’s denials, definitely begun.

– ends –

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