Netanyahu Threatens Sanctions Against Renegade Coalition Members

Decision meant to prevent another humiliating defeat like the one Netanyahu's reform of the Israel Lands Administration suffered.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to impose faction discipline on his Likud Party during the vote on the so-called "Mofaz Bill" this coming Monday, and any Knesset member who fails to vote with the coalition will be sanctioned.

This decision is meant to prevent another humiliating defeat like the one Netanyahu's reform of the Israel Lands Administration suffered on Wednesday, when he was forced to pull the bill at the last minute after several coalition members made it clear they planned to vote against, while others ostentatiously absented themselves from the hall.

The "Mofaz Bill" would make it easier for a group of MKs to split off from their party and form an independent faction. It is so called because Netanyahu hopes it will enable a group of MKs to quit the opposition Kadima party and join the government, and MK Shaul Mofaz is considered the most likely person to lead such a group.

On Thursday, Netanyahu convened his advisors to discuss how to prevent a repeat of the ILA fiasco, and concluded that the threat of sanctions would produce a strong majority for both that bill and the Mofaz bill. His associates said his threat to fire any minister or deputy minister who fails to vote for either of these two laws is serious.

"I have no doubt the prime minister will stand by his warning," said coalition whip Ze'ev Elkin (Likud).

Netanyahu and his aides also decided to reschedule the vote on the ILA bill for Monday, August 3. Since the Knesset will have already recessed by then, that will mean calling a special session and making great efforts to ensure that all coalition MKs actually show up and vote. Inter alia, the premier is threatening sanctions for any minister or MK who goes abroad before the vote, unless he has made a deal with an opposition MK who also promises to skip the session, so that the two cancel each other out.

In the case of the Mofaz bill, a prime target of Netanyahu's dismissal threat is Improvement of Government Services Minister Michael Eitan (Likud), who publicly attacked the bill in an interview with Haaretz.

The ILA bill is opposed by several Labor Party ministers and MKs, but party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak has promised that most of them will fall in line when the rescheduled vote is held, and Elkin predicted that ultimately, eight of Labor's 13 MKs would do so. However, the five Labor rebels are threatening to apply pressure of their own, and hope they can win a few other Laborites to their side.

Netanyahu is also trying to reach an agreement with Vice Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Likud), a close ally, who nevertheless skipped the vote on the ILA bill because he opposes it. Ya'alon said yesterday that he believes a compromise will ultimately be found that will enable him and other recalcitrant coalition members to support the bill.

However, Ya'alon's main objection is to a provision that would allow the ILA to sell land rather than merely leasing it - and in Netanyahu's view, that is the heart and soul of the reform.