MKs Hershkowitz and Katz
MKs Hershkowitz and KatzIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is not leaving the Likud, but the Likud may be leaving nationalists as he orders coalition ministers to vote against a bill that would legalize five housing units in the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El and prevent their court-ordered demolition.

The Ulpana homes were built with government approval, but Peace Now filed a petition with the High Court and convinced the justices that the land for the homes had not been legally purchased by Jews from a Palestinian Authority Arab.

With a national unity coalition that now includes Kadima’s 28 Knesset Members, Prime Minister Netanyahu can easily dispense with nationalists. At least three Likud ministers and deputies, Yuli Edelstein, Druze MK Ayoub Kara and coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin, have said they will vote for the bill, an action that the Prime Minister said will result in their being fired. Deputy Minister Gila Gamliel also plans to vote for the proposed law.

The bill is sponsored by MK Zevulun Orlev, one of three members of the Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi) party that is part of the coalition. It is not yet clear if he and chairman Daniel Hershkowitz will vote for the bill and thereby leave the coalition and join the National Union party in the Opposition.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beytenu party, announced Wednesday morning that his ministers will accept Netanyahu’s ultimatum and vote aganst the bill. He made the annoucnement after the Prime Minister said he will head a new committee overseeing Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, a step that might strip Defense Minister Ehud Barak's lone authority to determine the fate of Jewish homes in the region. Prime Minister Netanuyahu also has promised to build 10 homes for every one that is dismantled.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s ultimatum appears to be the final blow to “Feiglinism,” the ideology of Moshe Feiglin to work for nationalism from within the Likud. The party formally favors a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria but in practice has allowed hundreds of middle-of-the-night police raids to expel residents from hilltop communities, usually with violence and accompanied by Arab hired hands to throw out belongings and often walk away with them.

The Jewish Home party so far has turned the other cheek, but the issue of the Ulpana neighborhood may be the last straw. Nationalists warn that failure to prevent the expulsion through legal means will be the catalyst for turning other Jewish communities into falling dominoes.

Prime Minister Netanyahu will have a comfortable coalition without Jewish Home and can afford to lose a handful of ministers.

A “divorce” from nationalists might influence the next government coalition after elections next year, when the current Knesset term ends.

Likud is leading in current polls and will apparently lead the next government. Prime Minister Netanyahu can always count on Shas, which might abstain from the vote on the bill but for certain will not risk being fired by voting to protect the 30 families living in the Ulpana homes threatened with expulsion.

If nationalists flock to a united party of National Union, Jewish Home and disillusioned Likud MKs, they could become a bloc of 15 or more MKs, strong enough to force Prime Minister Netanyahu to consider tearing up the divorce.

His alternative would be an unlikely coalition of the hawkish Yisrael Beytenu party and Shas along with Yisrael Beytenu's arch-enemies Kadima and Labor.