Chairman of the Rightwing Union Rabbi Rafi Peretz on Monday expressed his rage in meetings with senior Habayit Hayehudi leaders over the fact that the list of demands presented by his faction partner MK Bezalel Smotrich as part of the coalition negotiations with the Likud had been leaked to Channel 12 news without coordination with him.
“That’s no way to run a partnership,” Peretz’s associates said. “This is crossing a red line and we do not accept it. If Smotrich wants to do things behind our backs, we will split the partnership with him.”
One of Rabbi Peretz’s associates added that Smotrich “is operating alone without coordination. Rabbi Peretz wants unity and going together, even though on the political level he owns four of the party’s mandates and Smotrich has only two. He (Peretz) still has faith in him (Smotrich), but if it continues, we’ll have no choice.”
According to a Kipa news report, Peretz has actually held discussions with his associates on Monday over the possibility of breaking down the partnership immediately, in which case Smotrich’s National Union would become a two-member faction, along with National Union Secretary-General MK Ophir Sofer.
For the time being, the two co-leaders decided to continue going together, and a source inside Habayit Hayehudi decsribed a “heated conversation” in a meeting between the two Monday, during which “Smotrich admitted his mistake” and expressed his regrets over leaking the list of demands to Channel 12 without the consent or even knowledge of Rabbi Peretz.
According to the same source, “Smotrich promised that from now on he would act in coordination” with Rabbi Peretz who, for his part, considered the matter settled.
A different Habayit Hayehudi source told Kipa News that the leaked list of conditions for the Rightwing Union joining a Netanyahu-led coalition government was just a draft document which had not yet been approved by the Habayit Hayehudi chairman, and that was the reason for the latter’s rage.
“It was all about Smotrich’s independent conduct,” the source said, confirming that the talk between the two faction leaders was “poignant.”
Smotrich issued a response to Walla News which also reported on the rift inside his faction, stating: “I have no idea who are those irresponsible elements inside the Habayit Hayehudi who are playing into Netanyahu’s hands in the negotiations, and want to return religious Zionism to the insignificant and irrelevant days of the National Religious Party. Our strength is in our unity, as a party that can tip the scale and without which there will be no coalition.”
“Splitting [the faction] would be an irresponsible move that should not even be imagined, and which our public would not forgive whomever does it,” he warned, adding that “from my many conversations with Rabbi Rafi Peretz in recent days, including yesterday evening, I’m sure he does not even imagine doing this. I would not be surprised if this has been a spin that came out of the Likud and is meant to weaken religious Zionism in the negotiations.”
Smotrich reiterated that “we have no intention of giving up the education and justice portfolios,” both of which had been held by the now evaporated New Right party, conjured by former Habayit Hayehudi leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked.
The National Religious Party (NRP, Mafdal in Hebrew) was created by the merger of two parties – Mizrachi and Hapoel HaMizrachi – back in 1956, and represented the religious Zionist movement. At the time of its dissolution in 2008, it was the second-oldest surviving party in Israel after Agudat Yisrael, and had participated in every government coalition until 1992. As Israel was moving to the right, following the Likud takeover in 1977, NRP also moved away from it centrist foundation to become associated with the settlement enterprise, and joined a faction with the firmly right-wing National Union. In November 2008, NRP was disbanded and became Habayit Hayehudi, which maintained a steadily growing Knesset faction with the National Union.
Smotrich’s disparaging view of the historic NRP notwithstanding, most Habayit Hayehudi traditional supporters still long for their more mainstream old party and view anxiously the partnership with the National Union, not to mention the sudden, unexpected arrival of Otzma Yehudit – all of which explains Chairman Peretz’s outrage at Smotrich’s playing fast and furious with the leadership agreement between the two parties.
Smotrich remains forceful and ambitious regarding his expectations of the Likud government, and is planning to demand a lot more than just the Justice and Education portfolios. He also will insist on passing the “overcoming clause,” which gives the Knesset the power to disregard a Supreme Court revocation of a law on the grounds that it conflicts with a foundation law – Israel’s closest thing to a constitution. Essentially, the Knesset would be able to tag every foundation law with a proviso allowing it to enact laws that conflict with all or some of it.
But wait, there’s more. Smotrich demands changing the method of selecting judges, giving the bulk of the power to the legislator – an idea whose time has come some 20 years ago. He wants to change the status of the Attorney General, presumably to split the post into its two separate functions, that of the supervisor of the entire judiciary and that of the supreme prosecutor – a healthy move if I ever saw one. He also wants to cut down the authority of the State Comptroller.
And he wants to return the Knesset Members’ immunity law back to where it was in 2005, when immunity from prosecution of a serving member of the Knesset and/or the government was the default setting. Currently, that setting is reversed, meaning that the immunity of an MK being prosecuted by police is subject to a Knesset committee decision. Once Smotrich passes the overcoming clause, the Knesset could annul the high court decision against reversing the 2005 decision – and retrieve a scrubbed law that blocks not only the prosecution of Prime Minister Netanyahu, but also of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) and MK David Bitan (Likud) who are also frequent guests in police interrogation rooms.
Smotrich will also pass a law to cancel the “disengagement” from Gaza, meaning that should the IDF invade the strip in the future, the government would possess the needed legal foundation to stay.
He will also insist that Netanyahu fulfill his campaign promise to apply Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, together with the disbanding of the 52-year old martial law in the liberated territories, represented by the Civil Administration.
According to Walla, Habayit Hayehudi has so far not accepted Smotrich’s Immunity Law, which is yet another reason why they were upset at the leaking of the draft with said demand in it.
It is estimated that if Smotrich does not receive the justice portfolio he’ll ask for the internal security portfolio or an expanded version of the housing and construction portfolio, with new ministerial powers.
Oh, and there’s the Norwegian law, which Smotrich wants settled even before the swearing in of the new government. The law, which is part of the Norwegian constitution, requires government ministers and deputy ministers to resign and be replaced by the next party candidates on the election slate. The reasoning is that ministers are often absent from their parliamentary duties because they function as part of the executive branch. This means, among other things, that committee appointments and routine work suffer.
Smotrich’s reasoning is quite different, however: he promised Otzma candidate Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was placed in seventh place on the faction’s slate, to make him an MK by hook or by crook. With at least two faction members moving up to ministerial posts, Ben-Gvir will join the Knesset, and would be his faction’s candidate for chairman of the committee for the nomination of judges. Which would be sweet revenge for Ben-Gvir, whose colleague in Otzma, Michael Ben Ari, was disqualified by a panel of supreme court judges.