Health Minister Ayelet Shaked: The key to unity on the Right? - analysis

Shaked has proven to be a political bulldozer who knows how to get along with people with strong egos.

Ayelet Shaked (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Ayelet Shaked
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
When negotiations began on forming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in 2015, Ayelet Shaked did not dream that she would get the Justice Ministry.
But Yisrael Beytenu’s refusal to join the government suddenly enabled Shaked’s party to hold the balance of power and demand any portfolio. She used the plum post to reform the justice system and give it a right-wing imprint like none of her predecessors.
At first glance, the current situation looks completely different. Thanks to Shas, United Torah Judaism, Blue and White, Labor and Gesher, Netanyahu has a solid coalition of 73 mandates without the six-seat Yamina Party of Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and Shaked.
Bennett lamented in an online press conference on Sunday that Netanyahu had not even called him since he met with him last Wednesday.
“I don’t see the prime minister making much of an effort to bring us in,” he said.
Bennett complained that three days after the first reports about Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman giving up his portfolio, it still had not been offered to him.
But perhaps the reason is that after weeks of sparring with Bennett over his handling of the coronavirus, Netanyahu does not want to make him health minister. Bennett said in an interview last week that he and Netanyahu would never go out for beers together as friends.
Yet, as has been proven in every post Bennett has held since entering politics in 2013, his disputes with Netanyahu are not just personal but also professional.
By contrast, Netanyahu’s lengthy dispute with Shaked is personal but not professional at all. She somehow managed to serve four years in the extremely sensitive post of justice minister with an indicted prime minister without stepping on his toes.
Bennett and Shaked have an agreement between them that they keep violating that says their portfolios will be of equal weight. Shaked was magnanimous in allowing Bennett to break the deal when he was offered his dream job of defense minister.
Officials in Yamina revealed that Bennett has been told that this is the time for him to return the favor and stand aside for Shaked and let her have her turn, perhaps as health minister as the coronavirus crisis continues.
Shaked has proven to be a political bulldozer who knows how to get along with people with strong egos. That could be exactly what is needed when key decisions will be made about how to restore the Israeli economy without harming the health of the public.
Health Minister Ayelet Shaked could even settle the very vocal disputes between the directors-general of the Health and Finance ministries.
When asked by The Jerusalem Post at the press conference about whether he could concede the higher portfolio of the two that Yamina will be offered to Shaked, Bennett deflected the question.
“We always know how to get along, and we will,” he said. “The question is not between us but whether the prime minister wants us. The ball is in his court.”
But had Bennett instead answered affirmatively, it could have led to a deal between Likud and Yamina being reached much faster. Announcing publicly that internal fights in Yamina had all been resolved would undoubtedly make Yamina a more desirable coalition partner for Netanyahu.
Imagine if immediately after Bennett conceded the top portfolio in the press conference, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich would tweet that he wants to head the Knesset’s important Law and Constitution Committee instead of remaining a minister, and Education Minister Rafi Peretz would announce that he is ready to serve the religious-Zionist sector as deputy minister of religious affairs.
Yamina is expected to get two portfolios: one medium-size portfolio like Health or Education and one smaller portfolio like Strategic Affairs or Intelligence Services. Holding either of the latter could allow Bennett to remain in the security cabinet, where he knows he could maintain his greatest influence on key decisions.
Despite what has been reported, Netanyahu wants Yamina in his coalition. He knows what headaches he would receive from Bennett and Shaked if they were in the opposition, so it is better to keep them inside and satisfied.
Granting the soon-to-be-vacated Health portfolio to Shaked may not be what a doctor would prescribe. But as happened five years ago, it could be exactly what is needed to keep the Right united and smooth the transition to a new government.