For those who are not familiar with him, Silvan Shalom is Bibi Netanyahu’s political nemesis and constant foil. He is also somewhat inconveniently one of the vice prime ministers and Netanyahu’s erstwhile main challenger for the Likud leadership. I wrote this in March:
Netanyahu and vice premier Silvan Shalom are long time rivals who do not like each other. The two go out of their way to antagonize each other by scheduling conflicting events and trying to embarrass the other through tactical voting on legislation, and Netanyahu even made sure that Shalom’s face was blocked in the official picture from the Cabinet meeting in which the Gilad Shalit deal was approved. While Shalom often comes across in these confrontations as bumbling and hapless, his resentment of Netanyahu is at the boiling point and Bibi cannot afford to make any of the younger MKs unhappy and risk a genuine leadership challenge within Likud.
Shalom has formally challenged Bibi to be head of Likud twice and both times he has lost, but he is still constantly looking for an opening. Today, while speaking to Moshe Rosenbaum, who is the chairman of the Beit El regional community council which has jurisdiction over Ulpana, Shalom called for an authorization law that would retroactively legalize all settlements and outposts since he believes that fighting for individual hilltops on a case by case basis is not supportive enough of the settlement project at large. These comments came after a cabinet meeting of senior ministers (which did not include Shalom) in which no decision was taken on whether to comply with the High Court order to demolish Ulpana by July 1, and in the midst of pressure from Likud MKs for the government to pass a law bypassing the High Court entirely.
As I have said a couple of times this week, bringing Kadima into the government gives Netanyahu lots of room to maneuver within the larger coalition, but it does nothing to alleviate – and even intensifies – his problem within his own party. Shalom is naturally trying to seize upon this, knowing that Netanyahu needs to placate the hardline members of what is after all a pro-settlement party but that doing so will cause trouble for Netanyahu with Mofaz and Kadima. Likud’s fault lines are being exposed, and it is going to be a Herculean task to try and keep the party in one piece without causing a major political crisis between the Knesset and the High Court. I don’t know that doing so is feasible, and I remain convinced that Likud is going to fracture and that an official split is coming at some point. Meridor staked out his position yesterday and Shalom has staked out his position today – the question is, where does Netanyahu ultimately stand? The answer is not one that he is going to be able to avoid providing for too much longer.