Kulanu leader has recently portrayed himself as the real, moderate Likud, but in an interview with Haaretz he outlines a hawkish agenda.
Moshe Kahlon, who set up the Kulanu party for the upcoming elections, said on Wednesday that he sees no possibility of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians in the foreseeable future. The former Likud communications minister also said he is in favor of continued construction in the settlements.
In recent campaign speeches, however, Kahlon said he represents the real, moderate Likud.
“At the moment we have no partner and there’s nobody to talk to on the other side,” Kahlon said in an interview to Haaretz Wednesday.
“A courageous leader must stand up and recognize Israel as a Jewish state and agree to a united Jerusalem and large settlement blocs (in the West Bank),” he said. “They must renounce the refugees’ issue and understand that there’s no return to the 1967 borders. The Kulanu party will support any arrangement that strengthens Israel’s security.”
Kahlon emphasized that he would object to dividing Jerusalem under any circumstances, saying: “This leader should know that Jerusalem stays united. Since there’s no arrangement and no one to talk to, we shouldn’t deal with these issues at the moment and continue with life as usual until we reach an arrangement and [enter] negotiations. As long as there’s no arrangement there should be no change in the status quo.”
Kahlon has been talking continuously with all the major parties’ leaders in recent months, except for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We haven’t made contact,” he said, when asked why he and Netanyahu are not talking to each other.
Asked if he’s disappointed with Netanyahu, Kahlon said: “I’m in another party. Obviously, if I’d felt comfortable in Likud I’d be there. I’m disappointed with the way Likud handles social causes.”
However, all the parties are potential partners, including Netanyahu, he said. Kahlon has spoken a lot so far about the high cost of living and especially about the exorbitant housing prices, but his views on other issues have remained a mystery. He said he will not support the so-called nation-state bill. The bill, which has been approved by the cabinet but has yet to go to the Knesset, defines the State of Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” – an overriding identity whenever democratic principles clash with Jewish interests.
“It’s no secret that the nation-state bill wasn’t a matter of principle but political legislation intended to provoke,” he said.
He refused to say whether he would support same-sex marriage or a similar arrangement. “I think people should be allowed to live their lives as they see fit. Personally I’m a traditional person, but I think people should live according to their faith and have individual rights,” he said.
Although he is observant, Kahlon supports public transportation on weekends and holidays. “Public transportation on the Sabbath is a social issue of the highest order – of course, with certain limitations. But people who have no car and want to visit their soldier son or grandson must be allowed means of transportation. These should be local, not central government decisions,” he said.
Kahlon had previously said that he wants to be in control of the Israel Lands Authority, which falls under the Construction Ministry, but later added that he would want to have power over the body no matter which ministry he got. On Wednesday, he made clear that his ambition is to hold the Finance Ministry.
“We are aiming for the Finance Ministry because that’s where we can get these things done,” he told Army Radio, listing reforms in housing, finance and the cost of living. He also said that Koolanu would not run with any other party in the upcoming elections, casting aside rumors that he was considering running with Yesh Atid or even the party in which he grew up, Likud.
On diplomatic issues, he reiterated that Koolanu would be there to “support” an agreement with the Palestinians, but said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was not – at the moment – a partner for peace, because he was pursuing action against Israel at the International Criminal Court and the United Nations.
“I am a man who can support a diplomatic solution. At the moment, sadly, there’s no partner, but the second there will be a courageous person on the other side who can reach peace or a diplomatic solution, we will be there to support it,” he said.
In any agreement, however, Jerusalem could not be divided, there could be no discussion of the Palestinian refugee issue, and there would not be a return to the pre-1967 borders, he said.
The Koolanu leader would not answer whether he would vote for evacuating settlements or not, though he was asked several times.
Kahlon also said his party would only accept a peace agreement in which Jerusalem remains united and the Palestinians give up their demand that refugees of the War of Independence and their descendants move to Israel.
Even Tzipi Livni, the former chief negotiator who is running on a joint list with Labor in this election, said the Palestinians deserve some blame for the current stalemate, Kahlon said.
While voicing respect for Livni, Kahlon was harsher on the rest of Labor’s newly appointed list, calling it “a list of stars” without experience in actually making changes.
Yet Kahlon also brandished social credentials, telling Army Radio that he supports Israel recognizing same-sex marriage.
“I am personally not against it,” he said. “Let everyone live their lives and decide to which institution they want to belong, although I am traditional.”