Daily Israel Report

Netanyahu Checkmates Everyone in Ulpana Battle

Netanyahu proves it’s more important to win than to be liked. His nationalist ministers fell in line. Ulpana homes also will fall.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 6/6/2012, 3:45 PM

Chessman Netanyahu checks everyhone
Chessman Netanyahu checks everyhone
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu once again has proven that it is more important for a politician to win than to be liked. His nationalist ministers fell in line on Wednesday and did not support the bill that would have prevented the fall of five homes in Beit El, where 30 families face a court-ordered expulsion.

A master chessman who once won a tie with chess expert Nathan Sharansky, he turned what 24 hours ago seemed liked a certain divorce bill from nationalists into a reconciliation based on mutual need as well as an agreed mutual distrust.

All but one of Yisrael Beytenu’s MKs either voted against the bill or left the Knesset hall, as did Shas ministers.

Nationalist ministers put up a brave and united front in the face of the Prime Minister‘s ultimatum to oppose the bill to legalize the homes or be fired from their jobs and lose their portfolios.

All of them vowed to stand on principle, and, one by one, each one fell, leaving Prime Minister Netanyahu the clear leader whose authority is not to be challenged.

The only 22 votes for the bill were from Opposition Knesset Members, specifically four from the National Union headed by Yaakov (Ketzaleh) Katz, and MKs without portfolios, including Likud Carmel Shama-HaCohen, Ofir Akunis, Ze’ev Elkin, Danny Danon, Tzipi Hotovely, Chaim Katz, Yariv Levin and Miri Regev.

Elkin may lose his position as coalition leader.

The outcome left a bitter taste in the mouths of nationalists, but they won some sweeteners from Prime Minister Netanyahu that in the future might be seen as a matter of  “losing the battle and winning the war," albeit at the expense of more expulsion victims.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s manipulations checkmated the 30 families who will lose their homes, but he also may have paved the way for the necessity to appease nationalists in order to avoid a certain divorce from them after the next elections if he has to choose between them and the Kadima and Labor parties as coalition partners.

Prime Minister Netanyahu did not want his nationalist ministers to leave the government any more than they wanted to. He pressured each one before the vote, and the most prominent of them – Likud MK Yuli Edelstein and Jewish Home chairman Daniel Hershkowitz – explained their absenting themselves from the vote as better than standing on principle and losing practicalities.

MK Edelstein pointed out Prime Minister Netanyahu’s moves to approve dozens of more homes in Beit El, one of the most prominent and influential national religious communities in Judea and Samaria.

Possibly even more significant was the Prime Minister’s move Tuesday night to establish a new ministerial committee that can authorize construction of Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria.

That power until now has been in the sole hands of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who has a long record of opposing expansion of a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria.