Netanyahu Beats the Clock, Gives In to Bennett Ultimatum

YERUSHALAYIM -

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave in to Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett’s ultimatum — give us the Justice Ministry or there won’t be a coalition — on Wednesday, giving him a one-vote majority in the Knesset and beating the midnight deadline for forming a government by an hour and a half.

Bennett did not get everything he wanted, however. While Netanyahu agreed to appoint MK Ayelet Shaked as Justice minister, he would not concede to her all the powers of her predecessors in the post. Notably, that she will not head the committee overseeing the nomination of new judges and will lack the authority to appoint rabbinical judges, according to Ynet.

After negotiations between Likud and Jewish Home that went into the early morning hours on Wednesday, the latter reportedly came out with the Justice, Education and Agriculture ministries, with Bennett taking over Education and Agriculture going to MK Uri Ariel. Bennett and Shaked will both be members of the security cabinet.

But as of Wednesday evening they had not actually signed an agreement, and there was  resistance from within Jewish Home regarding the choice of Shaked. The Tekuma faction, led by MK Ariel, was claiming that, according to a prior internal agreement, he — not Shaked — should be in line for the Justice Ministry.

In a letter to party director Ofir Sofer, quoted by Arutz Sheva, the Tekuma Central Committee issued an ultimatum of its own: that while they view Shaked as qualified for the job, “Mr. Bennett has to stand up to his commitments and give the second senior position to the representative of the National Union –Tekuma movement, Uri Ariel.” Or else, it said, they would retire to the opposition. In that event, Jewish Home would lose three seats, setting the coalition back to 58, two short of a majority.

Party members also objected to foregoing chairmanship of the Judicial Selection Committee. Negotiations were resumed Wednesday night to resolve the outstanding issues.

It was not until 10:30 p.m. Israel time that the parties issued a joint statement saying that a preliminary agreement had been signed, with details still to be worked out in the coming hours. Apparently, Ariel agreed to settle for the Agriculture Ministry.

Meanwhile, news of the deal to put Shaked in charge of the Justice Ministry drew predictably partisan reactions: approval from the right, condemnation from the left.

Daniella Weiss, a veteran figure in Yehudah and Shomron, told Arutz Sheva that Shaked is the right person in the right place at the right time to serve as Justice Minister. “There are many issues — land ownership rights, construction permits, residents, the status of communities and more — that she will have to deal with. And I am sure she will deal with them successfully.”

“Many of the issues she will have an opportunity to deal with have been the sole responsibility of the left,” said Weiss, former mayor of Kedumim in the Shomron. “It’s time that the right had an opportunity to manage these issues, to truly rule the country and not allow the courts to dictate the state’s attitude to Yehudah and Shomron, as has been the case until now.”

Leftist MKs and activists expressed a somewhat different view.

MK Nachman Shai (Labor) condemned the appointment: “Giving Ayelet Shaked the Justice portfolio,” he said, “is like giving the Fire and Rescue Services to a pyromaniac.”

Commented MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin of Labor — or, as it is now called — the Zionist Camp: “Shaked will be an anti-law and justice minister, a minister who will fight the legal system instead of strengthening it, a minister who might push the rule of law in Israel toward a dangerous abyss. The appointment of Ayelet Shaked is comparable to the appointment of Yair Lapid as Religions Minister,” Verbin added.

Yariv Oppenheimer, head of Peace Now, also condemned the appointment.

Netanyahu had until 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to present his government to President Rivlin. His government includes his own Likud party with 30 seats, Kulanu with 10, Shas with seven, United Torah Judaism six and Jewish Home with eight.