Benjamin Netanyahu did not want to reach this moment. He sought out every procedural tactic to delay the election of the Knesset’s two representatives on the Judicial Appointment Committee.
Three months after announcing, under pressure of massive protests, that he was suspending the various elements of Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s “legal reform” plan, he was forced to make another decision.
Seven months after the Knesset’s inauguration, there was no legal way to delay the committee’s appointment.
“Netanyahu wants to continue stringing along the talks under the president’s auspices,” said a source close to the prime minister.
“There is no consensus now on the constitutional changes so it’s better to play for time.”
The vote was due to be held on Wednesday and Netanyahu had already reached an interim compromise with the main opposition parties.
Parliamentary tradition would be respected and there would be one representative each for the coalition and opposition. In return, the opposition promised to continue discussing passing some minor amendments.
But many Likud MKs and most of the other coalition partners were against granting the opposition even a temporary victory.
Bad enough, they said, that they had given up on passing the law which would have given the coalition full control of the committee.
Netanyahu spent long days and nights trying to pressure his colleagues but ultimately the vote would be secret. Even if his compromise passed, dozens of coalition MKs might revolt in the privacy of the voting booth, leaving the prime minister weakened and the government divided.
In the end he tried to postpone matters once again. Using an obscure procedural clause few MKs had been aware of, he directed all the coalition’s members to vote against the candidates for the committee. The plan was that no candidate would be elected, and another election would be held in 30 days.
The plan backfired badly.
Karin Elharar, the opposition’s candidate was elected 58-56. At least four coalition MKs took advantage of the secret ballot to vote against the prime minister’s orders, the biggest rebellion since the election.
Another election will be held in 30 days for the second committee representative, but now the coalition is in disarray with everyone accusing everyone else.
Instead of buying time for Netanyahu, the protests against him are now likely to return with a vengeance, the opposition is threatening to leave the talks citing a flagrant breach of trust, and already the shekel is once again plunging. Everything is back to square one.
One party was quiet throughout all this, however: the coalition’s second-largest. Shas supported the prime minister in his attempt to reach a deal with the opposition. But it didn’t want to make any noise about it.
Party leader Arye Deri, who sat inside Netanyahu’s parliamentary office urging recalcitrant MKs, is pinning his hopes on a deal whereby one of the constitutional changes the opposition agrees to limits the Supreme Court’s power to cancel ministerial appointments.
That is, of course, what happened five months ago when the judges ruled that Deri, who last year signed a plea bargain accepting a conviction for tax fraud, could not remain in the posts to which he had just been appointed: deputy prime minister, interior minister and health minister.
He originally supported the entire Levin plan of judicial overhaul. The protests made him change tack. He now favours compromise, just as long as it works for him.
Deri's young rival
Deri urgently needs to get back into the cabinet. After leaving the two key ministries he held vacant for three months, he had no choice but to anoint a successor.
Moshe Arbel, a young rising star in Shas, was appointed to both jobs but didn’t receive Deri’s seat in the smaller security cabinet. The message was clear: he is just a caretaker.
Arbel was chief of staff to the party leader and is seen as impeccably loyal, but Deri is eternally suspicious.
If people get too used to the idea of having someone else as Shas’s senior minister, they may get other ideas as well. And there are other threats to his supreme leadership of the party.
Since the death of Shas’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, in 2013, the council of Torah sages, which nominally makes the party’s major decisions, has been a rubber-stamp in Deri’s hands. That is about to change.
The Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, son of Rabbi Ovadia, is about to end his ten-year term and once he’s no longer constrained by his government post he is expected to become the new president of the council.
Unlike the octogenarians who have presided over the past decade, Rabbi Yosef (71) has a keen understanding of politics and is unlikely to give Deri carte blanche to run the party as he sees fit.
That’s another reason for getting back into the cabinet quickly. The new council president could decide the someone else should rule the two ministries.
The elections for the new chief rabbis were scheduled to be held in August.
They have been postponed for six months on a legal technicality (the intricate politics of the chief rabbi elections will be the stuff of future columns) which gives Deri some breathing space to work on a deal with the opposition that will change the law and reopen his path to the cabinet.
High noon in lod
There’s been no breakthrough so far towards an agreement on diplomatic ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia. But one treaty has been signed in the region.
A truce was agreed last Friday between the warring factions of the Abu Ktifan family in Lod. Mayor Yair Revivo (a Likudnik) set down the terms. The relatives have been settling scores with bursts of automatic gunfire at each other’s houses for weeks now and stray bullets have nearly caused a number of tragedies.
Under the terms set down by Revivo, a three-week hudna (ceasefire) came into effect, after which the sides would meet again to agree on a sulha (full forgiveness and peace), which would be celebrated at Lod’s big mosque.
Revivo promised to talk with the police chief “to avoid as much as possible carrying out arrests and demolitions while the truce is kept.”
When Revivo’s document leaked to the press, the police denied any involvement and said it had “no base in reality.” Revivo retorted that not only were the police involved, but it was their initiative.
The Revivo Agreement is the perfect illustration of the breakdown in law and order: a Likud mayor in a central town next to Ben Gurion Airport having to broker a truce between gun-toting crime families to keep his residents safe. Meanwhile, 102 Arab-Israeli citizens have been murdered this year.
This isn’t solely the responsibility of National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. The terrifying murder rates in the Arab sector long preceded this government, but at least the Bennett-Lapid government had an inter-ministerial programme for dealing with the problem and the numbers had started to go down.
Ben-Gvir disbanded the task force and no new plan has been formulated beyond the vague idea of using the Shin Bet security service to track Arab organised crime groups — a step the Shin Bet chief and the attorney-general strenuously oppose.
Netanyahu met Arab-Israeli leaders last Monday to discuss the crime wave. The minister in charge of the police wasn’t invited.
The prime minister promised he would appoint a new task-force chief. Ben-Gvir immediately informed him that any such appointment would have to go through him. The result is no appointment. The bodies continue to pile up.