Analysis: Freeze expected to pass cabinet by slim margin

The current headcount in the Security Cabinet seems to promise Netanyahu a narrow victory, although much is dependent on Shas.

November 14, 2010 21:04
3 minute read.
Analysis: Freeze expected to pass cabinet by slim margin

Yishai. (photo credit: AP)

After spending a week congratulating Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for standing strong against American complaints over renewed building in Jerusalem, right-wing Likud Mks were forced to once again eat their words when Netanyahu brought them back a dubious gift from overseas. But although the party's right wing – including a handful of ministers – have already lined up against the newest plan for a 90-day complete building moratorium, there appears to be little that the government's right-wing can do to stop the coming winter freeze.

The current headcount in the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet seems to promise Netanyahu a narrow victory although, as in previous historic choices as well, much is dependent on Shas.

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Netanyahu's most natural allies in the cabinet are the two voting Labor ministers – Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Industry, Trade and Commerce Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. For Barak especially, the renewed freeze would be a breath of fresh air – a building moratorium and progress in the peace talks is exactly what the Labor Chairman needs to shore up support in a party that is increasingly looking for a new leader and to reiterate why he brought the left-wing party into a right-wing coalition in the first place.

Among the Likud ministers in the cabinet, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Education Minister Gidon Saár and Intelligence Services Minister Dan Meridor are all expected to vote with the prime minister, as will Justice Minister Yaákov Neéman.

Almost as many Likud ministers in the cabinet have already stated their intent to vote against the proposed freeze, with Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom leading the most vocal charge, followed by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin. Israel Beiteinu's three ministers in the cabinet - Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich, and National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau – will also all cast votes against the freeze.

The total thus far? A critically narrow seven in favor of a 90-day moratorium, and six opposing. Enter Shas.

Shas indicated Sunday that Netanyahu has little to fear. The haredi party holds two votes in the cabinet, belonging to Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Building and Construction Minister Ariel Attias. Those two votes could, needless to say, be the difference between freeze and no freeze, with Shas responsible for a historic defeat for Netanyahu. Yishai, however, said that Shas would instead abstain from the critical vote, arguing that the abstention was dependent on “massive building in Jerusalem.” According to compilations of building plans in east Jerusalem carried out by organizations such as Peace Now, building in the post-1967 borders of the capital is reportedly going strong.

In the coming days, right-wing activists will put pressure on Steinitz and Sa'ar, as well as on Shas, to try to change their votes, but none are likely to switch easily. Steinitz opposes the freeze on principle, but has little political future if he makes war against Netanyahu, his patron within Likud.

Beyond the cabinet, the coalition also does not look particularly shaky in the shadow of a second freeze. Israel Beiteinu has already promised that despite opposing the moratorium in the Cabinet, it will not pull out of the coalition. Shas, too, has no intent of leaving the coalition and leaving behind it a void likely to be filled by Kadima. The only likely casualty, in fact, may be two-thirds of the three-person Jewish Home faction, with Mks Uri Orbach and Zvulun Orlev likely to pull out of the government should the moratorium go into effect. Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz, however, may be tougher to pull out of his seat in the government.

Among Likud back-benchers, including Mks Tzipi Hotovely, Danny Danon, and Yariv Levine, Netanyahu is likely to meet with a hard line of opposition which, at its worst, could manifest itself in a rebellion against the coalition during the budget vote. With a coalition standing at 71 without the two Jewish Home Mks, a back-bench revolt would still need to enlist a massive 12 votes of support to bring down the government by voting down the budget.

Finding 10 Mks and ministers who are willing to vote themselves out of office in protest of a freeze likely to be already in effect will be perhaps an even bigger challenge to Netanyahu's right-wing opponents than finding one reticent minister to vote against the freeze in the cabinet. In other words, Netanyahu can rest easy tonight in the knowledge that this freeze too, will pass.

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