(photo credit: AP)
After spending a week congratulating Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for
standing strong against American complaints over renewed building in Jerusalem,
rightwing Likud MKs were forced once again to eat their words when he brought
them back a dubious gift from overseas.
RELATED:PA officials 'surprised' to hear about US freeze offerNetanyahu: US 90-day freeze proposal is not final
Although the party’s right wing –
including a handful of ministers – has already lined up against the newest plan
for a complete 90-day building moratorium in the West Bank (but not in
Jerusalem), there appears to be little the coalition’s right wing can do to stop
the coming winter freeze.
The current head count in the security cabinet
seems to promise Netanyahu a narrow victory although, as in previous historic
choices, much depends on Shas.
Netanyahu’s most natural allies in the
security cabinet on this issue are the two Labor representatives – Defense
Minister Ehud Barak and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin
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 his support in a party that is
increasingly looking for a new leader, and reiterate why he brought the
left-wing party into a right-wing coalition in the first place.
security cabinet’s Likud members, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Education
Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor are all
expected to vote with the prime minister, as will Justice Minister Yaakov
Neeman, who does not belong to a party.
Almost as many Likud security
cabinet members have already declared their intention 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
representatives – Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Public Security Minister
Yitzhak Aharonovich and National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau – will all
cast votes against the freeze.
The total thus far? A critically narrow
seven in favor of a 90- day moratorium, and six opposing.
Shas indicated Sunday that Netanyahu has little to fear. The haredi
party holds two votes in the security cabinet, those of Interior Minister Eli
Yishai and Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias. Those two votes
could, needless to say, mean the difference between freeze and no freeze, with
Shas responsible for a historic defeat for Netanyahu.
Yishai has said,
however, that Shas will abstain from the critical vote, adding that the
abstention was dependent on “massive building in Jerusalem.”
compilations carried out by organizations such as Peace Now of building plans
for east Jerusalem, building within the capital’s post- 1967 boundaries is going
In the coming days, rightwing activists will put pressure on
Steinitz and Sa’ar, as well as on Shas, to try to change their votes, but none
is likely to switch easily. Steinitz opposes the freeze on principle, but has
little political future if he makes war against Netanyahu, his patron within
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
Shas, too, has no plans to exit the coalition and leave
behind a void likely to be filled by Kadima.
The only likely casualty, in
fact, would be two-thirds of the three-man Habayit Hayehudi faction, with MKs
Uri Orbach and Zevulun Orlev likely to pull out of the government should a
moratorium go into effect. Party chairman, Science and Technology Minister
Daniel Herschkowitz, however, may be tougher to pull out of his cabinet
Among Likud backbenchers, including MKs Tzipi Hotovely, Danny Danon
and Yariv Levin, Netanyahu is likely to meet a hard line of opposition that, at
its worst, could manifest itself in a rebellion against the coalition during the
vote on the 2011/12 state budget.
With a coalition standing at 71 MKs
without the two Beit Hayehudi lawmakers, a backbench revolt would still need to
enlist 12 votes of support to bring down the government by voting down the
Finding that many MKs who would be willing to vote themselves out
of power over a freeze likely to already be in effect would perhaps be an even
bigger challenge for 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, shall