(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.
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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.
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.