Less than 36 hours before the national elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
has announced that he is appointing outgoing Minister Moshe Kahlon
as the chairman of the Israel Land Administration.
The announcement wasn't released by a government authority but rather by the Likud
According to the statement, the move was meant to ensure a significant reduction in the prices of housing in Israel,
with an emphasis on young couples and recently-discharged soldiers. Kahlon, who announced he was taking a break from politics in October, is to assume the position within a few months if the appointment is confirmed.
The measure requires new legislation seeing as under the current law, the Israel Land Administration should be by the housing minister. The new legislation would place the agency under the authority of the Prime Minister's Office.
Netanyahu and Kahlon held a press conference on the matter.
"I'm certain that together with Minister Kahlon, we'll be ale to reduce the cost of housing the same way we cut cell phone service prices," the prime minister said ahead of the conference.
Netanyahu added that he respects Kahlon's decision to take a hiatus from public life and lauded him for "undertaking this important mission" by accepting the appointment.
Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, who heads the Central Election Committee, has prohibited Israel's television news networks from airing live footage from the press conference, saying that it constitutes "illegal election propaganda." The ban was issued following a request by Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid.
"Netanyahu yet again indicates that he prefers gimmicks over concrete plans for the resolution of the problems faced by the Israeli middle class," the party said. "(…) Netanyahu prefers to put Kahlon in a key position, thus expressing complete distrust in his own running mates. The prime minister… has capitulated to the pressure brought on by the drop in the polls and is trying to take desperate measures a moment before the public goes out to vote."
Like Lapid, politicians across the board blasted the move.
Housing Minister Ariel Atias (Shas), who currently holds the position that Kahlon is slated to get, has dismissed the announcement as "meaningless," claiming that Netanyahu has persistently blocked his attempts to drive land prices down.
"The Israeli public doesn't suffer from memory loss and it isn't stupid," Atias said. "It's ridiculous to hear Netanyahu asking Kahlon to reduce land prices, two days before the elections. This is something that Netanyahu, alongside Finance Minister Steinitz, staunchly opposed. He fought me when I sought discounts for young couples and former soldiers."
Shas leader Aryeh Deri branded the step as "a desperate, last-minute measure."
Another Shas official said that the appointment is not feasible. "Netanyahu may as well announce he is naming Kahlon as the president," he said.
Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich
said the appointment was nothing but a "fig leaf for the social hell Netanyahu is preparing for us, if, God forbid, he is reelected."
"It's public knowledge that Kahlon quit in protest against Netanyahu's cruel economic and social policies. Even in his campaign ad Kahlon couldn't bring himself to say one nice thing about Netanyahu in this respect. His appointment is a testament to the fact that Netanyahu is panicking because he has lost some of his power."
Hatnua Chairwoman Tzipi Livni
suggested at a campaign event in Sderot that the announcement was meant to cushion Likud's drop in the polls.
Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On chimed in as well, saying that the step was "a lame and distasteful attempt" to make the Likud appear less radical and opposed to social reform. She accused Netanyahu's party of being more interested in building housing for settlers and "robbing the Palestinians of land" than in providing affordable homes for young Israelis.
"It's unfortunate that Kahlon, whom I respect, agreed to cooperate with this campaign spin instead of demanding the appointment be announced after the election," she added.