Jewish Home wins battle over who calls shots in coalition
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