Jewish Home wins bat­tle over who calls shots in coali­tion

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - ANSHEL PFEFFER

THERE WAS noth­ing par­tic­u­larly re­mark­able about the evic­tion of set­tlers from two build­ings in He­bron last week.

Yeshiva stu­dents and young fam­i­lies had be­gan mov­ing in on Thurs­day af­ter­noon, claim­ing to have bought the prop­erty legally. Sol­diers and po­lice ar­rived the next morn­ing to re­move them, with a few scuf­fles. They told the set­tlers that their oc­cu­pa­tion had not been au­tho­rised.

Sim­i­lar scenes have taken place hun­dreds of times over the past four decades in and around set­tle­ments in the West Bank.

What was out of the or­di­nary was the de­gree of iso­la­tion ex­pe­ri­enced by De­fence Min­is­ter Moshe Yaalon fol­low­ing his or­der to evict the set­tlers.

Mem­bers of Jewish Home, who see them­selves as the set­tlers’ rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the Knes­set, rushed to con­demn Mr Yaalon, some of them even threat­en­ing not to vote with the coali­tion un­til the set­tlers were al­lowed back into the two build­ings.

But they were not alone in at­tack­ing the De­fence Min­is­ter. He was also crit­i­cised by Likud col­leagues, in­clud­ing four of the party’s min­is­ters who ac­cused him of “over-mo­ti­va­tion” in is­su­ing the evic­tion or­ders. The main crit­ics were two of Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s chief political fix­ers, Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Zeev Elkin and Tourism Min­is­ter Yariv Levin.

Mr Ne­tanyahu tried to steer be­tween his war­ring min­is­ters, say­ing on Sun­day that “we are all obliged to re­spect the law and in this case not all the au­tho­ri­sa­tions were put in place in time”, while promis­ing to con­tinue sup­port­ing the set­tlers. He also pro­posed a com­mit­tee to co-or­di­nate build­ing per­mits for set­tle­ments that will in­clude two Jewish Home min­is­ters — Uri Ariel and Ayelet Shaked.

But the real dis­cord within Mr Ne­tanyahu’s cab­i­net is not over two more

or two fewer houses in He­bron, but over who calls the shots in govern­ment.

The de­fence min­is­ter is tra­di­tion­ally the se­cond most pow­er­ful man in Is­rael and Mr Yaalon is the clos­est min­is­ter to the PM. The two of­ten make the most cru­cial de­ci­sions to­gether, which are af­ter­wards rubber-stamped by the cab­i­net.

They see to eye-to-eye on nearly all is­sues, in­clud­ing ac­cept­ing the rec­om­men­da­tions of the de­fence es­tab­lish­ment not to in­crease ten­sion in the West Bank with ad­di­tional set­tle­ment-build­ing and puni­tive mea­sures against the Pales­tini­ans.

But Mr Yaalon, a prag­ma­tist who grew up in a Labour-sup­port­ing en­vi­ron­ment be­fore shift­ing to the right, has lit­tle political in­flu­ence of his own.

Mr Ne­tanyahu needs min­is­ters like Mr Elkin and Mr Levin to shore up Likud’s stand­ing with the ide­o­log­i­cal right-wing. They are Mr Ne­tanyahu’s lieu­tenants in the strug­gle against Jewish Home over that con­stituency, and see the De­fence Min­is­ter as a key ob­sta­cle in their quest. The Prime Min­is­ter is torn be­tween the need to keep mat­ters in the West Bank from spi­ralling out of con­trol and his political in­stincts. He be­lieves that he needs to en­sure he gets enough votes from the hardright to main­tain Likud as the largest party in the Knes­set.

It is a seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble bal­anc­ing act, but one he has al­most per­fected dur­ing his time in of­fice.

The PM needs Elkin and Lev into help him wins up­port from ide­o­log­i­cal right-wing



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