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Minister Shaked Could Decide the Fate of Israel's Government

Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker
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Interior minister Ayelet Shaked in October.
Interior minister Ayelet Shaked in October.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker

During the decisive days before the formation of the government, the children of Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked were sent to sleep away from home. The demonstrations, the noise, the tumult, the pressure – Shaked preferred to have them stay with friends for a few nights. The other side also applied pressure. The members of Yesh Atid identified Shaked’s husband Ofir as an important link. They heard that he supported the formation of the government and wanted to strengthen him. A series of high-ranking former Israel Air Force officers were asked to phone pilot Shaked. To persuade him.

Eight months after the government was formed, the interior minister is leading a move that endangers its existence more than any other step: passing the Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law – a bill that would again bar Palestinians who marry Israelis from receiving permits to live with their spouses in Israel, months after an earlier ban expired following a dramatic coalition fight – with the votes of the opposition, in contradiction to the agreements with Meretz and the United Arab List in the previous round. Shaked is gambling on the fact that Meretz wouldn’t dare to disband the government.

In Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s circle they tend to say that the left-wing ministers like to go home on Thursday, whereas the right-wing MKs would prefer to stay on base. Yamina MKs Nir Orbach, Idit Silman and Yomtob Kalfon absorb harsh criticism on their home base. Meretz MKs Tamar Zandberg, Esawi Freige and Nitzan Horowitz, on the other hand, are in love with their jobs and can well recall the endless winters of discontent. It’s hard to believe that they would disband the government.

When it comes to the United Arab List the situation is more complicated. Mansour Abbas is far from disbanding the government over the citizenship law. But the UAL isn’t only Abbas. The game being played by MK Walid Taha, for example, is more complex; some will say more impulsive. Yesterday he called to ask after Shaked’s health, after she contracted COVID-19. He didn’t say a word about the citizenship law. That doesn’t mean that he’ll show up later during the voting in the Knesset. The same is true of MK Mazen Ghanayim.

We can reasonably assume that the coalition will survive the crisis, but it will be a scar – a precedent, in which there was freedom to vote as each MK wished, and a law passed with the support of the opposition. Bennett’s people are saying: There’s no choice, we can survive an evacuation in the illegal outpost of Homesh and a delay in construction in the outpost of Evyatar, but we can’t live with an agenda that is seen as post-Zionist, a prohibition against planting in the Negev, the failure of the citizenship law.

Ronen Bar, the chief of the Shin Bet security service, has been very helpful to them. Shaked told her cabinet colleagues that he phoned her and asked: What’s happening with the citizenship Law? He claimed that 40 percent of the detainees in the riots in the Negev that took place due to the tree planting last month are Palestinians who received citizenship through marriage to an Israeli Arab woman.

Shaked is often singled out as the one who will disband the government and prevent the rotation of prime ministers. If she does so, it will be against her interest. Not to say half suicide. Here are her two alternatives: If the rotation takes place – she will be the justice minister, her dream job, for two years and four months. If the rotation doesn’t take place – her political future is in doubt.

Shaked’s way of torpedoing the rotation would result in a split in Yamina and the formation of a new faction with three MKs – let’s say: Amichai Chikli, Shaked and Orbach. Such a faction would find it difficult to pass the voting threshold. Shaked can join Likud with the faction, but in the long run it is hard to see her building a significant support base that would enable her to become part of the leadership on her own. In the short term, anyone who heads Likud could promise her guaranteed slots on the election slate and jobs, in exchange for the disbanding of the government. The question is, how capable is he of keeping his promises.

If Shaked leaves as the head of a small faction, that doesn’t mean an immediate election. Even in such a case the opposition has only 55 MKs, there is no majority of 61 for a constructive vote of no-confidence that would immediately crown the chairman of Likud. Even moving up the election by means of a law depends on the good will of Joint List MKs Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi. There is no certainty that they would want to be a part of such a move. Shaked would have to gamble on leaving in a situation in which the election might be held only quite a while later. Can she rely on the promises of Likud in such a scenario?

Shaked does not like to gamble. Anyone counting on her to disband the government has to hope that she will act in contradiction to all her political decisions in the decade of her political career.

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