Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett rejected a request from his longtime political ally Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked to use his veto power to force the Lebanon maritime border agreement to be put to vote in the Knesset, marking growing differences of opinion between the two longtime allies.
"We will remember [Prime Minister Yair] Lapid, [Defense Minister] Benny [Gantz], Yvette [Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman], [and Interior Minister] Ayelet [Shaked], who abandoned Israel's security and surrendered to Hezbollah. We will fix what you are ruining."MK Itamar Ben Gvir
The cabinet eventually decided on Wednesday that the agreement indeed will not be brought to a vote on the Knesset floor, with Shaked voting against the decision.
“If it was up to me, I would have vetoed the agreement, until it was voted on in the Knesset,” Shaked wrote after the vote on Facebook.
“I told him [Bennett] that he should use his authority in order for the agreement to be approved by the Knesset, that is my opinion, [but] he thought otherwise,” Shaked told KAN Radio.
“This is more than just a procedure. Every significant agreement in recent generations has been brought for approval in the Knesset… out of an understanding that significant issues need to return to the sovereign, and the sovereign is the Knesset. All the more so for a government that does not enjoy the Knesset’s confidence,” Shaked said.
She also expressed reservations about the agreement itself. “The deal could have been better, we could have reached a better outcome.”
Whether to put the agreement to a vote in the Knesset is crucial, since it is not clear that it would pass.
High Court's temporary freeze never frozen
Prior to the full cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Bennett explained his decision to support the deal, regardless of whether it is voted on in the Knesset or not.
“In normal times, we should have waited with the decision for the next government, but the circumstances require that we make a decision now, since the security challenges, as they were presented to us by all of the [security] system heads, create a short and narrow window [of opportunity],” he said.
The disagreement between Shaked and Bennett marks a growing divide between them, after a decade of political partnership. Bennett announced in July that he would not run in the upcoming election, and handed over the leadership of his party, Yamina, to Shaked. Shaked at first joined forces with Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel, but later broke away from him and took over the lead of her and Bennett’s first party, Habayit Hayehudi.
Netanyahu gathers his MKs
While Bennett did not support joining a government led by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, Shaked announced after joining Habayit Hayehudi that she had “returned home” and that she supported a Netanyahu government.
Hendel also expressed his doubts about the agreement not being put to a Knesset vote. Hendel, who also will not run in the upcoming election, told the Prime Minister’s Office and to the National Security Council that the timetable had not enabled serious enough debate, and the agreement’s complexity required further discussion. The PMO, in response, initiated a series of meetings between Hendel and security officials so that he could familiarize himself with the deal.
Hendel’s conclusions were that although he preferred a Knesset vote, he has “ministerial responsibility” that the deal be approved, since it answers Israel’s strategic needs.
Opposition across the aisle
MKs from the opposition parties Likud and the Religious Zionist Party (RZP) worked unsuccessfully on a number of fronts on Wednesday to hinder or delay the signing of the Lebanon maritime border agreement, which they oppose.
Prior to the agreement landing on the Knesset floor on Wednesday evening, RZP MK Simcha Rothman demanded in a letter to Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy that he refrain from opening the plenum, arguing that this was illegal.
Rothman quoted a clause in the Knesset protocol that requires the Home Committee to unanimously approve any change of procedure. A “sudden” convening of the plenum on Hol Hamoed, especially while the Knesset is in recess due to the election, constitutes a change of procedure and thus must be approved first in the committee, Rothman argued.
Additionally, an appeal to the High Court of Justice by MKs Yariv Levin (Likud) and Orit Struck (RZP) to issue a temporary freeze on the agreement’s proceedings was not accepted, as the actual vote on the deal in the cabinet is only expected in two weeks.
Struck then sent a letter to the ministers from the cabinet’s “Yamina” bloc, demanding that they use their veto powers in order to enforce Attorney-General Gali Miarav Bahara’s preference that the agreement be brought for a vote on the Knesset floor.
Opposition leader and Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu gathered MKs from the party to discuss the Lebanon maritime delineation agreement.
Netanyahu met earlier with MK Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Otzma Yehudit faction at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Jerusalem. The content of their meeting was unknown. Ben-Gvir, however, wrote on Twitter afterwards, “We will remember [Prime Minister Yair] Lapid, [Defense Minister] Benny [Gantz], Yvette [Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman], [and Interior Minister] Ayelet [Shaked], who abandoned Israel’s security and surrendered to Hezbollah. We will fix what you are ruining.”
This may indicate that the two have decided to accept the agreement as a done deal and attack the politicians who promoted it, instead of trying to block the deal itself.