Communications and Social Affairs Minister Moshe Kahlon (Likud) shook up the Israeli political world on Sunday with an announcement that he will not run in the upcoming Knesset elections and that he is taking a "time out" from political life. Kahlon did not explain his decision, leaving looming question marks.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Kahlon on Sunday and urged him not to leave politics. Some Likud officials believe Kahlon was using the announcement as a way of trying to earn a promise from Netanyahu that he will be appointed as finance minister, but this was apparently not the case, and the common assumption is that Kahlon will return to the private sector. Kahlon also denied that he intends to run for mayor of Haifa.
Kahlon met with Netanyahu on Sunday afternoon and officially informed him that he will not take part in the upcoming Likud primaries, since he does not want to be on the party's list in the Knesset elections in January. Kahlon's office released the official announcement to the public later in the evening.
Kahlon said that, despite his decision to leave politics, he still supports the Likud and Netanyahu.
Kahlon told Israel Hayom on Sunday night that the rumors that he plans to run for mayor of Haifa are not true. He did not deny, however, that pressure has been applied on him by Likud officials in Haifa to do so.
A Likud official in Haifa told Israel Hayom that he hopes Kahlon will run for mayor.
"He will easily defeat any other candidate," the official said.
While Kahlon did not elaborate on his plans, his associates said that he may look into a number of opportunities in the private sector, one of which is "a challenging offer for cooperation with an Israeli businessman whose entire activities are overseas."
Kahlon's announcement left other Likud members stunned. Kahlon was thought of as one of the party's strongest field operators and was expected to earn a very high spot on the Likud list in the upcoming Knesset elections.
Kahlon was also considered to be very close to Netanyahu. The two met a number of times in recent days to determine the procedures and timing of the Likud primaries.
The recent reform in Israel's cellular phone market, which led to new service providers entering the market and a dramatic reduction in prices, was attributed to Kahlon. At a meeting of Likud ministers several months ago, Netanyahu tried to encourage ministers to make similar achievements, telling them "Be like Kahlon."
Netanyahu confidants said on Sunday that the prime minister will continue trying to convince Kahlon to remain in politics, as he did in a conversation between the two late Sunday evening. They also said that Kahlon did not ask for any role or anything else that he did not receive.
Kahlon's colleagues in Likud expressed regret over his decision. Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said that Kahlon made "important contributions" to the country and to the Likud party.
"It is important for Israeli citizens that Kahlon remains in the political system," Erdan said.
Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat said she hoped Kahlon would make a quick return to politics and Likud MK Danny Danon said that Kahlon is "an asset for the citizens of Israel."
"Kahlon's actions are characterized by a preservation of the Likud's values with a sense of social mission," Danon said.