(March 18, 2018 / Israel Hayom / Exclusive to JNS) The policies led by Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon have helped the Israeli economy thrive, and his growing power base makes him a viable candidate for the position of prime minister in the future, the Bloomberg news agency said on Thursday.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development issued a report last week saying the Israeli economy is one of the strongest economies in the world today.
In an interview with Kahlon, titled “The Arabic-Speaker Who Might One Day Lead Israel,” Bloomberg lauded the Israeli economy’s robust performance in recent years, and praised Kahlon for helping keep unemployment down and stimulating growth.
Although the threat of early elections sparked by the recent coalition crisis has dissipated, the interview said Kahlon, 57, is one of a handful of individuals at the top of the list of potential successors to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should he be forced to resign over his legal troubles. Netanyahu is implicated in three ongoing corruption investigations.
“I don’t dream; I’m realistic,” Kahlon told Bloomberg. “Being prime minister is difficult and carries a lot of responsibility. But I see myself as capable of doing any job.”
Recent polls show that the Likud Party’s victory in the next election is all but guaranteed—and by a substantial margin. But the surveys also show that if Netanyahu did step down, the Israeli public has no clear preference for a successor.
Contenders include Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid; Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay; Habayit Hayehudi chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett; and Yisrael Beytenu head and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
The interview noted that Kahlon, being fluent in Arabic, could have an advantage in navigating the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and that he already has a productive rapport with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.
Kahlon has often stressed that economic collaboration and finding ways to boost the Palestinian economy could pave the way to revive the peace process.
“It is our destiny to live here together. We need to leave the window open, even if it is only a crack. When the time is right for more political talks, a path for communication will have already been paved,” he told Bloomberg.
Kahlon, one of seven children of parents who came to Israel from Libya in 1949, frequently invokes his humble beginnings as the reason he entered politics. He left Netanyahu’s Likud Party in 2012 to form his own party, Kulanu, which ran on a mostly economic-social platform, giving it a strong voter base in the periphery.
“I was one of Likud’s most popular lawmakers, and I could have stayed where I was comfortable,” Kahlon told Bloomberg. “I had a choice: to stay and sell out my values, or take a chance and maintain them. I chose the latter.”
Praising Kahlon, Bloomberg wrote: “Kahlon rose to prominence as communications minister about eight years ago, when he crafted rules for mobile phone carriers that have helped cut consumers’ bills by 90%.”
It added that as finance minister, Kahlon “brings credibility and level-headedness” to one of the most challenging cabinet positions.
It also said that Kahlon has been involved in a number of clashes over attempts to undermine the Israeli judiciary. Last year, he “was the sole cabinet member to challenge Netanyahu in a fierce debate over creating a new public broadcaster—a plan the prime minister’s allies opposed because they said it would be packed with anti-government voices.”
But the report was not without criticism, saying that Kahlon’s plan to rein in housing prices, which have skyrocketed in the past 15 years, has been far less successful than his mobile-phone reform.
“Discounts on land for developers who promise to sell apartments at below-market prices have helped stabilize costs, but they’re still up sharply since Kahlon took office,” it said, adding that he has essentially failed to deliver on one of his party’s key campaign promises in the lead-up to the 2015 elections.