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What Does Israeli Iron Lady Ayelet Shaked Want?

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked
Interior Minister Ayelet ShakedCredit: Moti Milrod
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

The most interesting question in Israeli politics these days is what is Ayelet Shaked trying to do? Where is she heading with all this? Not that Shaked ever pretended to be satisfied with the new governing coalition, but lately this feeling has been growing.

Not a day goes by without the interior minister taking a contrarian stance on the coalition or, worse, one that jibes with the deepest currents of the Netanyahu camp, practically the Smotrich camp. The following is a partial list from recent days.

Shaked opposed connecting the power grid to homes built without a permit – a coalition promise made to the United Arab List. She tried to block an initiative that would ensure health insurance for asylum seekers – a populist message à la far-right activist Sheffi Paz.

Then comes the icing on the cake – Shaked voiced opposition to Gideon Sa’ar’s bill that would ban someone under criminal indictment from serving as prime minister. And she topped it all off with a fervent disavowal of Yair Lapid’s statement at the event marking the anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination; the foreign minister said that Yigal Amir’s ideological heirs were “sitting in the Knesset.”

Cabinet members and others who have been present at forums where Naftali Bennett and Shaked meet say their relationship isn’t in a good place. Some believe that this is the basis of Shaked’s rebellion. Bennett is basking in the glory of being prime minister, and even if it doesn’t look that way right now, he could still use his position as a launching pad in the future.

Shaked is stuck in the Interior Ministry in a government that sent her stock collapsing, as her base sees it. The convenience has disappeared from the marriage of convenience – and a marriage without something that serves a deeper interest can be very tenuous.

Some observers think that Shaked is paving her way to a post-Netanyahu Likud, but some senior ministers are sure she’ll make the move a lot sooner. “At some point she’ll join forces with Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud,” one said.

But beyond the question of whether Shaked is capable of stabbing Bennett in the back, there’s a difference between a marriage in crisis and genuine war; after all, there are several matters to consider.

For example, there’s the significant lack of affection for her from the royal couple. Sara Netanyahu called her disturbed, and Netanyahu’s credit rating isn’t among the best; Likud’s other leaders won’t welcome with confetti a new member who could threaten their standing. (If Shaked leaves alone, and not with one-third of Yamina’s lawmakers, she won’t be able to run in the next election on the Likud slate.)

Rumors of a new right-wing party with people like businessman, broadcaster and political animal Jacob Bardugo are nice gossip, but genuine electoral equality, as Shaked learned from her Hayamin Hehadash adventure with Bennett, is a very different matter.

Shaked’s departure would certainly rock the government, but it’s not clear if it would bring it down, even if it happened after Lapid took over from Bennett as prime minister; Shaked would be giving up the Justice Ministry so as “not to create a lie in her right-wing soul.” The Joint List, which promised six votes for the bill prohibiting a criminal defendant from forming a government, versus Shaked’s one vote, is likely to volunteer the same votes later on.

Sometimes to learn something about a person’s true nature or deepest motivations it’s enough to look at where they are. “Those who know her know it’s not at all sure that she has a plan,” one cabinet member said. Another right-winger added: “She looks like Margaret Thatcher, but it’s a game. She doesn’t have the killer instinct to bring down a government.”

Well, let’s presume that this chaos of sitting on the inside while flirting with the outside serves Shaked best at the moment. It’s not clear that there will be further developments.

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