Analysis

Netanyahu Sacked Israel's Justice Minister Out of Spite, but Can't Be Rid of Her Forever

The premier fired Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett out of long-standing vengefulness, but there's a chance he may need to put up with them in his next government

File photo: Former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired on June 2 along with her ex-political partner Naftali Bennett.
Olivier Fitoussi

How innocent could Ayelet Shaked be to believe that the appeals tribunal at the prime minister’s residence would grant her clemency only because some newspaper said she was an electoral asset and because Likud’s David Bitan and Haim Katz “called for" a slot on the party's slate to be reserved for her? Some sins have no statute of limitations. Some sinners will never be forgiven, even if their transgressions are mainly the products of the accusers’ febrile minds.

Not only was Shaked naive, she wasn’t careful. She conducted an overly aggressive campaign to try to soften the opposition of the prime minister and his wife to her joining Likud – and their hatred of her had already long crossed the border of the rational. Not only did she want to join, she wanted to be among the top five people on the ticket.

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It turned out that the more the media and intra-Likud pressure increased (Bitan and Katz were joined by the Federation of Local Authorities chief Haim Bibas and other mayors), the uglier the atmosphere at the prime minister’s residence became.

We can guess what was going in Benjamin Netanyahu’s mind: If Shaked is tunneling like this when she’s still outside Likud, what would she do inside? He’s power hungry and beset by suspicions. He has no interest in having anyone at the top of the party publicly acclaimed but not bowing his or her head to whatever he growls at them, even when it’s through his spokesman.

That’s why he waged all-out war against the return to the fray of Gideon Sa’ar, and another reason why he would never agree to open the door to Shaked (by signing a form to reduce the minimum amount of time she would need to advance). And this is the case even if theoretically she could win more Knesset seats for Likud.

But the truth is, from April 11, when the final vote count was confirmed after the general election, neither Shaked nor Naftali Bennett had any basis, political or moral, to stay at the helm of such important ministries as Justice and Education, or to remain in the security cabinet. They should have resigned immediately on their own initiative; after all, they were appointed to their positions as representatives of the Habayit Hayehudi party, which they abandoned.

The only surprise about their firing from the cabinet is that Netanyahu waited with the dismissal letters until eight weeks after the election in which their new Hayamin Hehadash party failed. Maybe it was also the “Sunday syndrome” that Likud veterans know well; after a weekend in the relaxed Zen atmosphere at home with wife Sara and son Yair, he comes back to work keen to do something. Now all that remains is to let history judge on September 17.

Shaked and Bennett are weighing whether to run again with Hayamin Hehadash, most likely with her in the top slot this time and him as No. 2. If they can make it past the 3.25-percent electoral threshold, Netanyahu probably won’t have a government without them, as happened in 2015, on the assumption that Avigdor Lieberman won’t be a partner.

In such a case, Netanyahu would have to make her a minister, perhaps even justice minister once again. But if he’d reserve her a place in Likud, she wouldn’t have any leverage to force him to give her a portfolio or even a committee chairmanship. If she has any chance of returning to the cabinet, assuming Netanyahu forms one, it would actually be from the outside.

What would he say then? What would Sara say? Netanyahu wouldn’t have any logical reason to slam the gate in her face other than emotions. Anger and vengefulness aren’t a work plan. After the blow he took last week in the Knesset and ahead of an election campaign whose results may well determine his fate, it seems he hasn’t drawn the necessary conclusions.