Coalition likely to survive vote on incentive package

Analysis: Shas’s willingness to abstain emerges as the key to establishing 90-day building moratorium.

Yishai (photo credit: AP)
(photo credit: AP)
After spending a week congratulating Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for standing strong against American complaints over renewed building in Jerusalem, rightwing Likud MKs were forced once again to eat their words when he brought them back a dubious gift from overseas.
Although the party’s right wing – including a handful of ministers – has already lined up against the newest plan for a complete 90-day building moratorium in the West Bank (but not in Jerusalem), there appears to be little the coalition’s right wing can do to stop the coming winter freeze.
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The current head count in the security cabinet seems to promise Netanyahu a narrow victory although, as in previous historic choices, much depends on Shas.
Netanyahu’s most natural allies in the security cabinet on this issue are the two Labor representatives – Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer.
For Barak especially, the renewed freeze would be a breath of fresh air – a building moratorium and progress in the peace talks is exactly what the Labor chairman needs to shore up his support in a party that is increasingly looking for a new leader, and reiterate why he brought the left-wing party into a right-wing coalition in the first place.
Among the security cabinet’s Likud members, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor are all expected to vote with the prime minister, as will Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who does not belong to a party.
Almost as many Likud security cabinet members have already declared their intention to vote against the proposed freeze, with Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom leading the most vocal charge, followed by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Minister-without- Portfolio Bennie Begin.
Israel Beiteinu’s three representatives – Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich and National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau – will all cast votes against the freeze.
The total thus far? A critically narrow seven in favor of a 90- day moratorium, and six opposing.
Enter Shas.
Shas indicated Sunday that Netanyahu has little to fear. The haredi party holds two votes in the security cabinet, those of Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias. Those two votes could, needless to say, mean the difference between freeze and no freeze, with Shas responsible for a historic defeat for Netanyahu.
Yishai has said, however, that Shas will abstain from the critical vote, adding that the abstention was dependent on “massive building in Jerusalem.”
According to compilations carried out by organizations such as Peace Now of building plans for east Jerusalem, building within the capital’s post- 1967 boundaries is going strong.
In the coming days, rightwing activists will put pressure on Steinitz and Sa’ar, as well as on Shas, to try to change their votes, but none is likely to switch easily. Steinitz opposes the freeze on principle, but has little political future if he makes war against Netanyahu, his patron within Likud.
Beyond the cabinet, the coalition also does not look particularly shaky in the shadow of a second freeze. Israel Beiteinu has already promised that despite opposing the moratorium in the cabinet, it will not pull out of the government.
Shas, too, has no plans to exit the coalition and leave behind a void likely to be filled by Kadima.
The only likely casualty, in fact, would be two-thirds of the three-man Habayit Hayehudi faction, with MKs Uri Orbach and Zevulun Orlev likely to pull out of the government should a moratorium go into effect. Party chairman, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz, however, may be tougher to pull out of his cabinet seat.
Among Likud backbenchers, including MKs Tzipi Hotovely, Danny Danon and Yariv Levin, Netanyahu is likely to meet a hard line of opposition that, at its worst, could manifest itself in a rebellion against the coalition during the vote on the 2011/12 state budget.
With a coalition standing at 71 MKs without the two Beit Hayehudi lawmakers, a backbench revolt would still need to enlist 12 votes of support to bring down the government by voting down the budget.
Finding that many MKs who would be willing to vote themselves out of power over a freeze likely to already be in effect would perhaps be an even bigger challenge for Netanyahu’s right-wing opponents than finding one reticent minister to vote against the freeze in the cabinet.
In other words, Netanyahu can rest easy tonight in the knowledge that this freeze too, shall pass.