Close cabinet vote expected in final okay of Turkey deal

Three ministers still undecided, PM holds tiebreaking vote.

June 29, 2016 01:39
3 minute read.
Israel's 34th government

Israel's 34th government. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not have an easy job on Wednesday convincing his security cabinet to support the Turkish-Israeli rapprochement agreement, which was signed by senior Israeli and Turkish diplomats in their respective capitals on Tuesday.

Three of the 10 members of the cabinet – Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), and the two Bayit Yehudi ministers – Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett – have come out against the agreement.

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In addition to Netanyahu, two others have come out in favor of the agreement – National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud), and Construction Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu). Shas’s Arye Deri is also expected to vote in favor.

This leaves three undecided ministers: Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud), Transportation Minister Israel Katz (Likud), and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu).

Since Netanyahu’s vote counts double in the event of a tie, he only needs the support of one of the three undecided ministers to get the deal passed.

Kahlon said his vote depended on a meeting he held late on Tuesday with interim head of the National Security Council Yaakov Nagel.

Sources close to Kahlon said he was bitter there had not been serious discussions in the security cabinet on Turkey until now, and angry at Netanyahu for reaching a deal before convening the committee.

“I don’t feel obligated by what anyone signed,” Kahlon said. “I feel obligated only by my own logic and my own conscience.”

Channel 10 reported that Katz had already decided to vote against the deal. But his associates said they were unaware he had made such a decision.

The morning security cabinet meeting was initially set for only an hour and a half, but after ministers complained that it was too short to enable serious deliberations, it was extended to three hours.

Bennett said that while reconciliation with Turkey is important now for Israel’s interests, “paying reparations to the perpetrators of the terrorism on the [Mavi] Marmara is a dangerous precedent that Israel will regret in the future. I am in favor of good relations with Turkey, but not at any price.”

Channel 2 reported that sources close to Netanyahu called Bennett’s complaints about the security cabinet not having enough discussion about Turkey “another example of him being a crybaby.”

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel of Bayit Yehudi, who is not a member of the security cabinet, said such a key issue needed to be brought to the entire government for a vote.

Meanwhile, Zahava Shaul, the mother of Oron Shaul whose body is being held by Hamas, urged the ministers not to vote for the deal until the bodies of the two soldiers and the two Israelis missing in Gaza are returned.

Opposition to the deal centers on two matters: substance and procedure. On a substantive level, the deal has been criticized largely on grounds that Israel should not be paying $20 million compensation to the families of victims on the Mavi Marmara, who violently attacked IDF soldiers after they boarded the ship to keep it from breaking the Gaza blockade.

On the procedural level, as echoed by Kahlon, the opposition is bothered that the cabinet was not kept appraised of the deal, and is being asked essentially to be a rubber stamp to a deal that Netanyahu negotiated through his interlocutors.

Even as the deal was causing disagreements inside the security cabinet, Foreign Ministry director- general Dore Gold signed the short document in Jerusalem, and Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu signed the accord for the Turkish side in Ankara. The signings took place with no pomp or ceremony.

If the deal is approved by the security cabinet and the Turkish parliament, ambassadors will then be exchanged. A spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted by AFP as saying this process will begin this week.

It is not clear whether Netanyahu will select his own candidate – a political appointment similar to the ambassadors in Washington and at the UN – to fill the Ankara position, or whether it will be filled from within the ranks of the Foreign Ministry.

Although this post has never been filled by a political appointment in the past, its heightened sensitivity may lead Netanyahu to want to select someone on his own for the position.

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