Communications and Welfare Minister Moshe Kahlon held talks on Thursday with Natan Eshel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's former bureau chief and close friend, Channel 2 News reported.
The talks were held in the wake of reports that Kahlon, who recently announced that he would be taking a time-out from politics and will not be running with the Likud party in the upcoming elections, was contemplating forming his own party.
Both sides refused to confirm the Channel 2 report, which said that regardless of his final decision, Kahlon will try to maintain good relations with Netanyahu, and even if he decides to form a new party, he will ask for Netanyahu’s blessing.
It is believed Kahlon will make a final decision by Sunday and will discuss the issue directly with Netanyahu upon the Prime Minister's return from a visit to France.
A poll conducted by the Channel 2 News program "Mishal Cham" on Thursday evening found that if Kahlon decides to run in a new party, he will rake in 13 seats. The breakdown of votes showed that six of those seats will come from Likud voters, a fact which will give the joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list 35 seats. According to the poll, Kahlon would take four seats from the Labor party, and one seat each from Shas and the Yesh Atid (Future) party led by Yair Lapid.
Media reports over the past few days said that several polls had shown Kahlon getting anywhere from 20 to 35 seats. However, those polls were regarded as a spin by most professional pollsters, and no background information or methodology was published to justify them.
A poll conducted by the Geocartographia organization and presented on Kol Yisrael radio Thursday morning said that in the event that Kahlon runs, the joint Likud-Yisrael Beyetenu list would garner 43 seats in the next Knesset; without Kahlon in the race, the joint list would get 44 seats.
In this poll as well, the biggest contributor to a Kahlon ticket would be the Labor Party, which would only get 16 seats with Kachlon in the race, compared to 19 without him. The Yesh Atid party would contribute a seat to Kahlon according to this poll as well, going down from 14 to 13 with Kahlon in the race.
Kahlon is personally very popular among Israeli voters because of his efforts to lower the cost of basic services, such as cellphone service and cable and satellite TV. He was also behind a number of reforms in consumer laws, such as making it easier for Israelis to receive a cash refund when returning an item they are not happy with, instead of having to make do with a store credit.
Netanyahu dismissed on Wednesday the reports about Kahlon, and told reporters during his visit to France that he believed Kahlon would remain in the Likud.