Habayit Hayehudi could leave gov't over Ulpana

PM informs ministers, deputy ministers they will be fired if they vote for bills retroactively legalizing outposts.

Demonstraters outside Supreme Court for Ulpana 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Chyutin Architects)
Demonstraters outside Supreme Court for Ulpana 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Chyutin Architects)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s mammoth 94-MK coalition will shrink to 91 lawmakers on Wednesday if Habayit Hayehudi carries out its threat to depart in protest of government opposition to controversial legislation on outposts.
Habayit Hayehudi leadership candidate Zevulun Orlev sponsored a private member’s bill that would retroactively legalize unauthorized West Bank Jewish construction, including Beit El’s Ulpana outpost. At press time, the bill and a similar one that National Union chairman Ya’acov Katz proposed appeared to have no chance of passing when they come to a vote on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu informed ministers and deputy ministers on Tuesday night that the government opposed the bills, and that if they voted for the legislation, he would fire them.
“The country has major challenges ahead, including passing a budget, getting all segments of society to share equally in the country’s burdens, and the problem of migrants,” Netanyahu said at a meeting in his office. “Only a united and disciplined government will be able to deal with those issues.”
Habayit Hayehudi’s chairman, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz, vowed to vote in favor of the bills despite the prime minister’s threat. Sources close to him left open a small possibility that he could back down at the last minute, but they said the most likely scenario was that he would quit and take his party out of the coalition with him before Netanyahu got a chance to fire him.
“I am choosing between bad options, not good ones,” he said in a meeting late Tuesday with his loyalists, who tried to persuade him not to quit.
While a dozen Likud ministers had expressed support for the bills in the past, it appeared on Tuesday night that the only minister from the party ready to be fired over the issue was Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein – the only Likud cabinet member who lives over the Green Line.
“Yuli has not changed his mind that he will not vote against bills that could save the Ulpana neighborhood from destruction,” a source close to him said.
Along with Edelstein, three Likud deputies will be fired for voting for the bill: Deputy Regional Development Minister Ayoub Kara, Deputy Pensioners Affairs Minister Leah Ness, and Gila Gamliel, who is in charge of women’s issues in the Prime Minister’s Office.
“I was not born to be a deputy minister,” Kara said. “I am voting on principle. I have a path, and I will stick to it. I don’t believe that destroying Jewish homes is the way to solve the conflict with the Palestinians.”
Gamliel said she was “loyal to the prime minister, but even more loyal to my conscience.”
Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) could also be fired for pushing for the legislation. Elkin said that rather than threaten ministers, Netanyahu should adopt policies that would prevent “a tsunami of destruction.”
The Likud is expected to be heavily represented at a press conference Katz plans to hold on Wednesday morning, The Jerusalem Post learned. More than a dozen MKs from multiple parties will be represented, sources close to Katz said. The lawmakers will be showing solidarity in favor of the outpost bill and calling on their parties’ ministers to join them in voting for it.
Shas ministers intend to leave the room to avoid getting fired, but the party’s MKs who are not ministers will vote in favor.
Yisrael Beytenu is expected to do the same, but a party spokesman said no decision would be made until Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein gave an official ruling about the Ulpana outpost, and it was still possible that the entire faction would vote in favor or against the bills.
Netanyahu discussed legal issues regarding Ulpana with Weinstein on Tuesday night. As of press time, no information had been released on that meeting.
According to unofficial reports, Weinstein already approved the legality of Netanyahu’s plan to relocate the five apartment buildings to an authorized tract of land in the Beit El settlement and to further develop Beit El.
He has yet to issue an opinion on the implications that removing the homes would have for further High Court petitions against illegal settler building elsewhere in Judea and Samaria. It is assumed that he briefed Netanyahu on that matter on Tuesday night.
Tovah Lazaroff, Herb Keinon and Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.