A week after the coalition voted as one to pass the Law to Cancel the Reasonableness Standard, sending tens of thousands of people into the streets and the economic markets falling, seven Likud MKs emerged saying it won’t happen again.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Agricultural Minister Avi Dichter, Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis, Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Yuli Edelstein, and MKs David Bitan and Eli Dalal either expressed their views or were quoted in private conversations over the weekend as advocating for further judicial reforms only if there is broad consensus.
Gallant and Gamliel were reportedly interested in trying to get National Unity Party head Benny Gantz and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to join a unity government, replacing Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Otzmat Yehudit and Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionist Party. This is an idea that gained some traction from reports that US President Joe Biden is keen on brokering an Israel-Saudi Arabia-US agreement that would transform the Mideast but which would require Israeli concessions to the Palestinians that would necessitate Lapid and Gantz joining the government.
The Likud ministers and MKs who came out in favor of a broad consensus for further judicial reform or the possibility of bringing Gantz and Lapid into the coalition were immediately labeled “Likud rebels.” Other Likud ministers and MKs, like Economics Minister Nir Barkat, are believed to share similar views but have not openly expressed them due to political considerations.
Breaking away from strict party orthodoxy
The emergence of these “rebels” marked a break from the strict party orthodoxy that united the coalition in passing the reasonableness clause last week when everyone fell into line, ignoring the worrying signs from outside. These signs included warnings about how passing the clause would further divide a badly torn nation, damage the readiness of the army, hurt Israel’s standing abroad, and weaken the shekel and stock exchange.
The ideas articulated individually by the seven MKs -- there is little sign it was an organized camp inside the Likud -- are simple: now that the reasonableness clause has been passed at a tremendous cost to the party and the country, any further item on the judicial reform menu can only proceed after agreement is reached with the Opposition.
But for this consensus to be reached, there needs to be a partner on the other side willing to negotiate. There need to be “rebels” on the other side ready to break with the orthodoxy of those protest movement leaders’ who oppose negotiations until the judicial reform is completely frozen or the government falls.
Deny intentions of joining a unity government
Gantz and Lapid denied any intention of joining a unity government with Netanyahu, with Lapid saying that he was not going to bail Netanyahu out and help pave his way to a meeting in Washington or repair his relations with international financial institutions who have lost faith in prime minister’s word and are advising investors against investing in Israel.
Regarding the narrower issue of negotiating with the Likud to come to a consensus on the other contentious issues having to do with the judicial reform -- first and foremost, the composition of the committee to select court judges -- few in the Opposition or among the leaders of the protest movement were willing to deviate from their entrenched anti-talks position.
Yesh Atid’s Orna Barbivay said over the weekend in reaction to the voices inside the Likud calling for broader consensus: “Anyone fantasizing about [Likud] MKs voting against the [judical] resolution should come to their senses .. this government needs to complete its course, our situation in all aspects of life deteriorates with each additional day that it is in power.”
The Kaplan Force protest group dismissed the “rebels,” saying they were a mere “smokescreen” meant to buy Netanyahu some quiet and time to complete the “judicial coup.”
And the new week began Sunday morning with the hourly news bulletin reporting that “sources in the Opposition say that they have no intention at this point in returning to talks at the President’s Residence.”
The emergence of Likud rebels could do one of two things: it could harden the Opposition, which might see this as a sign that the Likud unity is crumbling and that if they keep applying pressure, the rifts will widen, and the government will fall.
Or, it could encourage moderates on the other side -- “rebels” in their own right -- who see the outreached hand of the Likud “rebels” as an opportunity to genuinely reach some agreement.
National Unity Party MK Chili Tropper was the first such “rebel” to speak out, calling in a Facebook post on Friday for cooperation and a search for agreement with the “brave” coalition members who have reached out.
He was joined on Sunday by party member Matan Kahana, who said he sees the cracks as an opportunity to reach some consensus.
“I see these so-called cracks in the Likud as a big opportunity. I see these seven serious and moderate MKs, we always knew they existed, and I think if they or the coalition are seriously extending their hands, we have to make sure that there will be a hand extended back.”
Kahana said that now that “finally there is a serious force that is working towards coming to agreements, it is very important that we will show that we are very much interested. We need to make sure that if there is now an opportunity, it is clasped with both hands.”
So far, however, Trooper and Kahana’s voices are among only a few singing this conciliatory tune in the Opposition or among the protest movement leaders.
If the Likud “rebels” are to succeed in forcing their party to pass any future reform with broad consensus, there needs to be those on the other side willing to try and reach that consensus. Gallant, Edelstein, Dicther, Gamliel, and the other “rebels” extended a hand to the Opposition; the question now is whether there will be someone there -- beyond Tropper and Kahana -- to extend a hand back?