Sunday night was probably unsettling for the prime ministerial residence on Balfour Street, a night of taking stock, of frayed nerves. If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not have yielded to the caprices and whims of his wife, he could have had a restrained, downsized and loyal Ayelet Shaked on the list of top ten Likud Knesset candidates, even without promising her a ministerial post (or in any case, without promising to keep his promise).
Instead of acting according to his and his party’s best political interests, as suggested to him privately and publicly by lawmakers in his party, Netanyahu was dragged by emotions and vengefulness. Last night he got his comeuppance: Shaked, who begged to be incorporated into Likud and was turned down, and who was fired by Netanyahu from her post as Justice Minister, along with Education Minister Naftali Bennett, is back, and in a big way.
The writing was on the wall as far as her placement at the head of the Union of Right-Wing Parties from the moment Bennett had swallowed his pride and renounced his leadership of the New Right party. According to multiple surveys conducted to test voters’ inclinations, the right, still traumatized by its loss of five to six Knesset seats in April's election due to its fissures, saw the numbers and urged a union of forces.
Union of Right-Wing Parties Chairman Rafi Peretz (his rabbinical title should be dropped since it’s irrelevant to his political endeavors) has been a dead man walking for some time. Recent polls have given the coup de grace to his pretentious ambitions. With his party hovering over the electoral threshold while the New Right is becoming twice as strong since Shaked assumed leadership last Sunday, there was no doubt as to who should ultimately head the union.
Peretz began the negotiations over the leadership as Tarzan and ended them like Popeye. What he won’t learn by the end of his Knesset term, Shaked, a brilliant politician, has already forgotten. Quietly, discreetly, effectively, she wove the web that brought her to where she is now. Legitimize Kahanists? She won’t bat an eyelid. Her excuse will be that it’s only “a technical bloc,” because nothing describes Shaked better than a cool-headed technocrat.
On September 18, Netanyahu, who tried to eliminate her, will find himself facing the head of a party with 12-13 seats (according to the last polls). If a Likud-right-wing-ultra-Orthodox government is at all possible, he might offer Shaked the Foreign Ministry portfolio even before she asks for it, just so the Justice Ministry stays in Likud hands this time.
- Israeli right-wing parties announce broad union led by Ayelet Shaked
- Right-wing joint slate led by Shaked would be third largest in Knesset, polls show
- Ayelet Shaked takes Netanyahu to task for opposing her efforts to lead right-wing slate
Meanwhile, he’s far from reaching that goal. His aim of garnering 61 seats without Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party now looks virtually impossible to attain. Barring an extraordinary development in the next 50 days, the chances a unity government without the ultra-Orthodox, the religious-Zionists and the Kahanists seem quite realistic.
Some insights on the unifying right
As soon as he recovered from the shock, Netanyahu rushed to contact Peretz, urging him to predicate the team-up on Shaked and Bennett’s committment to recommend that President Reuven Rivlin task only him with forming the government. This is a baseless demand. They’ll do what serves them best under the post-election circumstances. This only highlights his failure. If he’d agreed to her joining Likud, he would have been saved this worry, which in 60 days will turn into panic in the best Balfour style.
The recordings and transcripts aired on Saturday by Amit Segal of Channel 12 news, with a choice selection of the political insights of Peretz’s wife Michal, indicate that we have a new Sara Netanyahu. While her husband wanders confused, stumbling and falling in the byways of politics, but she is already navigating and deciding for him.
Thanks to this right-wing broad union, the 22nd Knesset will not include two of the leading right-wing figures who have debased public discourse: Former Knesset member Yinon Magal and political analyst Shimon Riklin (who would have been offered spots on the slate of the New Right had it ran independently in the September election). They will have to make do with scattering their ruminations through negligible media outlets, ones lacking viewers or listeners, and on Twitter. That’s much preferable than in Israel's parliament.