Back in February, several days after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu coerced the joint Bayit Yehudi/National Union list – headed by party leaders Rabbi Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich – to run in a single list with the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit, called the Union of Right-wing Parties (URP), a friend of mine who is a registered member of the Likud said to me in a mocking voice: “Bibi has certainly taught you guys a lesson in politics.”
Several days ago, he admitted that Netanyahu’s “lesson” had not been thought out to the end since, even though he managed to “save” five mandates for the right – by getting URP to pass the qualifying threshold – he lost the four mandates of the New Right, headed by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, who would most probably have passed the qualifying threshold if URP had not been formed.
I wonder whether Netanyahu doesn’t regret having to deal with Smotrich (the politically inexperienced Peretz seems to prefer staying on the sidelines) rather than with Bennett and Shaked who, while they behaved before their downfall as if they were the cat’s whiskers, at least did not carry with them any scandalous rabbis who have apparently never heard of the enlightenment and the concept of equality; messianists who believe that one day Jerusalem will run all the way to Damascus; and shameless, racist Kahanists.
The price he paid for the URP was exaggerated, no matter how you look at it, given that its three components might well have remained outside the Knesset without the union. What he appears to have promised was two important ministerial positions for Peretz and Smotrich (one of them the Education Ministry) and a reserved Knesset seat in the Likud for a Bayit Yehudi member – Deputy Defense Minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan.
Dahan “joined” the Likud as the representative of a shelf-party called Ahi (literally, My Brother, and the Hebrew acronym of Eretz, Hevrah Yahadut
– Land, Society, Judaism) established by former MK and Minister Efi Eitam, which ran in the elections to the 18th Knesset within the Likud. Dahan will be joining the URP sometime in the future, though it is not clear that this can be done within the framework of the law. It is all very weird and highly questionable as a legitimate democratic ploy.
WE DO NOT know what else Netanyahu has promised, but he must now be facing several dilemmas. Peretz will apparently receive the Education Ministry. Smotrich wants the Justice Ministry, but Netanyahu plans to give it to current Tourism Minister Yariv Levin from his own party. It is reported that Netanyahu offered Smotrich the Public Security Ministry, but this is the ministry on which Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev has set her heart.
However, what is most disturbing is the fact that the two prospective URP ministers will apparently be allowed to resign from the Knesset within the framework of an extended Norwegian Law, so that number seven on the Union’s list – Kahanist Itamar Ben Gvir – will enter the Knesset. Will Netanyahu finally put his foot down?
The haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties, which have increased their Knesset representation from 13 to 16, pose another set of dilemmas. It is said that United Torah Judaism (UTJ) has its eyes on the Construction and Welfare ministries, and Shas on the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, in addition to the ministries and other positions that it already holds. A major problem with Shas is that Netanyahu might not be able to reappoint its leader Arye Deri as interior minister because the attorney-general is likely to indict him on charges of fraud and breach of trust, subject to a hearing.
The problem with UTJ, besides some outrageous conduct by Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman – such as his intervention to prevent the extradition to Australia of a haredi teacher to stand trial for alleged sexual offenses against her pupils – is that the Ashkenazi haredi parties are opposed to full membership in the government. This means that ministers will have to be appointed to the ministries in which haredi deputy ministers will be appointed with ministerial powers. Will Netanyahu himself assume all of these fictitious positions?
Avigdor Liberman is the only candidate for minister (of Defense: and I suspect Netanyahu abhors the prospect), who has a clear interest in stopping the haredim from realizing their agenda: in terms of the Mobilization Law, observing the Shabbat, the Conversion Law, strengthening the rabbinate, etc. He is also the only potential minister who might use his political power (five Knesset seats in a potential coalition with a majority of 65) to prevent Netanyahu from establishing his fifth government.
This has caused the Likud to seek potential deserters from Blue and White, even though MKs who might be seduced into leaving the party will find themselves in the unenviable situation that former MK Orly Levy-Abecassis found herself in the recent election.
THEN THERE is Moshe Kahlon, leader of the much withered Kulanu Party (from 10 to four seats), whose return to the Likud has apparently been blocked, at least for the time being. Unlike Liberman, he cannot prevent the establishment of Netanyahu’s new government, and his case for two ministerial positions – finance minister for himself, and economics and industry minister for Eli Cohen – is weak.
It has been said that Netanyahu offered him the Foreign Affairs Ministry. In other words, Kahlon’s choice is between the Finance Ministry with a giant budget deficit (which he himself created) – and fewer tools to try and realize his plan for cheaper housing – and the Foreign Affairs Ministry, where at best he will be allowed to play second fiddle.
And for whom have very few kneidlach been left? All the senior Likud members aside from Netanyahu himself and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. Except for the Justice Ministry, which will apparently be given to Levin, all of the remaining ministries available for distribution to Likud ministers are minor ones.
One wonders how long it will take before senior Likudniks decide that enough is enough – because it is not just important executive positions that they are being denied, but any sort of significant say in the decision-making process. If anyone must have an interest in a national unity government being formed between the Likud and Blue and White, it is this group of senior Likudniks, with one or two exceptions.
I believe that most senior Likudniks do not really support extreme right-wing and religious positions. Most of them are secular or mildly traditional. Though there are no great liberals remaining in their midst, most of them are no further to the right than Kahlon, and most of them have much more in common with the members of Blue and White than with the Likud’s so called “natural partners.”
The question is whether enough of them (or any of them) will have the guts to put an end to the political farce Netanyahu has gotten the state into – and follow the path that President Reuven Rivlin and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit have marked. (See my article on Mamlachtiyut from last week.)
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