Analysis |

Bennett Successor Ayelet Shaked Inherits a Political Mess

The pro-Netanyahu camp hasn’t forgiven Shaked for joining the Bennett-Lapid government, while the other side has been burnt by the government’s collapse. Where will she position her Yamina party ahead of Israel's November 1 election?

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Yamina lawmakers Ayelet Shaked, foreground left, and Matan Kahana at the Knesset in May.
Yamina lawmakers Ayelet Shaked, foreground left, and Matan Kahana at the Knesset in May.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

In political circles, the talk these days is about the future of the troubled Yamina party and about Ayelet Shaked, who took over the party’s reins following Naftali Bennett’s decision not to run in November’s election, after stepping down as prime minister.

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Shaked wanted first of all “to get a hold of this thing called Yamina,” as one senior Yamina official put it. “Now she’s figuring out what she should think about it.”

The feeling in the outgoing coalition at least is that Shaked will ultimately sail Yamina’s ship into Port Netanyahu. Opinion poll results reported Sunday by Kan Channel 11 television show that the four seats that Yamina is currently predicted to get could hand former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a Knesset majority.

This week, Yamina faction lawmakers decided against splitting off from Shaked, mainly because they have no better alternative. Political sources said that Matan Kahana, who doesn’t really want to remain with Shaked, would be welcomed by Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party or Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan but that it’s still too early to formally recruit him.

First they need to attend to the needs of their existing lawmakers. After demonstrating loyalty to their own party’s leaders (by the relatively low standards of the outgoing government), these two parties’ Knesset members wouldn’t welcome having a new candidate on their party slate who would push them further down the list.

Idit Silman and Nir Orbach, both of whom had reportedly sealed deals with Likud, are counting on Netanyahu’s promises. Despite his kind treatment in the past toward defectors to his camp, Netanyahu remains the least trusted dealer in Israeli politics.

Idit Silman, right, and then-Prime Minister Naftatli Bennett in the Knesset chamber in May.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Silman still enjoys positive sentiment in the Netanyahu camp for her key role in bringing down the Bennett government; Orbach, on the other hand, has been whining for too long and is no longer such a coveted commodity among Bibi’s supporters.

The one consolation that Bennett can derive from his painful downfall is that the way he chose to leave significantly lessened the value of the Knesset lawmakers who stabbed him in the back. Abir Kara was rumored to have unsuccessfully negotiated with Yisrael Beiteinu and is now stuck with Shaked. (Kara did not reply when asked for a response regarding the rumors).

Amichai Chikli, the first of the Yamina rebels, is barred from joining an existing party after he was formally declared a defector. He is weighing running independently for the Knesset, but associates of his say he won’t mount a campaign at all costs – and will only run if he thinks he can put together a slate that stands a chance of entering the Knesset. Chikli is counting long-term on running based on his status as the outgoing coalition’s first defector – who undermined the government headed by Bennett, the leader of what had been Chikli’s party.

Shaked herself is betwixt and between. The Netanyahu camp hasn’t forgiven her for joining the Bennett government while the other side isn’t forgiving her for the government’s collapse, viewing her as having contributed to its demise.

Right-wing sources say they are skeptical about Yamina’s strength in the polls and believe that the odds are against Shaked attracting enough votes for the party to enter the next Knesset. As they see it, the polling support that she enjoys is based on a fragile mix of voters from Meimad (a movement further to the left than the National Religious Party of its time), together with some anti-Bibi-ist gratitude and a pinch of what Bibi-ists call self-righteous “polite right-wingers.”

It’s premature to judge whether this is wishful thinking or a prognosis, but there’s little doubt that Shaked’s position is extraordinarily complicated. If she decides, as many believe, that she will go with Netanyahu, right-wingers have perfectly good alternatives on Election Day with either Likud itself or Religious Zionism. If she sticks with the outgoing “change” coalition, she would be saddled for now with the very Yamina Knesset members who brought the government down. In addition, as noted, Shaked herself doesn’t remain blameless.

What will Shaked do? At this stage, it’s very hard to see her successfully emerging from this mess. It’s not at all crazy to imagine that at the end of the day, she will take the same step that her political partner took and quit politics.

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