The decision by Israel’s Yamina faction on Sunday to join the opposition may not be final but it still deals a blow to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—not only because it means the right-wing bloc that has been politically propping him up for the past 18 months is breaking apart at the seams, but also because it rattles his core base: Likud voters.
Likud voters have already had several bitter pills to swallow in terms of the concessions made to the Blue and White Party to hammer out the unity government deal, such as giving the rival party the justice portfolio and agreeing to a premiership rotation in 18 months. Now they have to deal with the fact that Netanyahu seemingly prefers a rival party over a longtime partner.
Keeping Yamina—an alliance of the Jewish Home, National Union and New Right parties—in the government is essential, as Netanyahu still has to convince his base that he did not agree to form a left-leaning unity government, but rather a right-wing coalition that Blue and White agreed to join.
That message can be driven home only if the New Right’s Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, Jewish Home’s Rafi Peretz and National Union’s Betzalel Smotrich remain part of the government.
There is no arguing with the fact that Yamina presented outrageous portfolio demands considering it won only six Knesset seats. A party of this size can’t truly expect to hold four major ministries, but Netanyahu could have offered Bennett the health portfolio—a respectable follow up to the current defense minister.
The right-wing bloc survived the political upheavals of the past year because each of its members, together and apart, understood how crucial the alliance is. Likud, the ultra-Orthodox parties and their national-religious counterpart—each could have bolted at any given time in exchange for the trappings of power, but they preferred to stick together.
Now they have to find new middle ground, and this may also force them to consider dissolving the fledgling unity deal with Blue and White—something they should feel far less committed to preserving.
Netanyahu and Gantz plan on having their government sworn in this Thursday, but the legal-political arena is already agitated over the fact that, as part of the coalition deal, the Likud has ceded the Justice Ministry—and with it the reform the right began introducing to the legal system—to Blue and White, i.e. the left.
The Israeli left considers the judiciary a bastion of democracy under dangerous assault from the right, while the latter argues the High Court of Justice grossly exceeds its power by interfering in the legislator’s work too often and to too great an extent.
At a time when the High Court all but dictates the political future of the government, there is a real need to complete the reforms instated by the Justice Ministry under Shaked, especially the legislation of override provisions that would allow the Knesset to pass laws even if the court struck them down.
Alas, this is unlikely to happen under the incoming government. Maybe next time.
Mati Tuchfeld writes for Israel Hayom.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.