Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may face a tougher battle than he expected to win cabinet approval for Israel’s new reconciliation with Turkey, but is still expected to secure the necessary backing when the cabinet meets on Wednesday.
The two ministers from the right-wing Jewish Home coalition faction, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, are expected to vote against the deal, which was announced on Monday and signed by officials in Jerusalem and Ankara on Tuesday. Bennett said Tuesday that he backed reconciliation with Turkey, “but not at any price.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has also indicated he may vote against the accord.
Along with Netanyahu in the 10-member security cabinet, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas), Housing Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu) and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) are set to support the agreement, Channel 2 reported on Tuesday evening.
Still on the fence are two of Netanyahu’s Likud colleagues, Interior Minister Gilad Erdan and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, and Kulanu’s Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who said Tuesday he would decide on the merits of the deal when he’d read it in full.
Netanyahu made the full text of the agreement available to ministers on Tuesday afternoon, and extended the time allotted for the cabinet to debate the accord on Wednesday from an initial 90 minutes to several hours.
Critics such as Bennett have faulted the accord as a capitulation to Hamas in that it does not provide for the return to Israel of two Israeli civilians believed to be in Gaza and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers held by Hamas in Gaza since 2014 Operation Protective Edge. The deal also provides for Israel to pay $20 million compensation over the 2010 Mavi Marmara raid.
Netanyahu promised repeatedly on Tuesday to do everything possible for the Israelis in Gaza, and appealed to visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to intervene. But he has also stressed that the deal provides for Turkey to try to assist in this matter, and that the agreement ends years of Israel-Turkish enmity, protects Israeli soldiers from legal action over the Mavi Marmara affair, leaves the security blockade of Gaza in place, and opens the possibility of major Israel-Turkey economic cooperation.
Channel 2’s report late Tuesday suggested that Netanyahu — who has a double vote in the event of a tie in the cabinet — would get the deal safely through, with Kahlon in particular seen unlikely to block the accord.
Meanwhile, the families of Israeli soldiers and civilians missing in the Gaza Strip said Tuesday, after talks with UN Secretary-General Ban, that the cabinet should reject the deal.
Ban and Netanyahu met in Jerusalem with the relatives of the two fallen Israeli soldiers whose remains are being held in the Hamas-ruled Strip, as well as the family of one of two Israelis also believed to be captives of the Palestinian terror group.
The families of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were killed in action during the 2014 Gaza war, had pushed for the return of their bodies to be included in Israel’s rapprochement deal with Turkey.
Zahava Shaul, the mother of Oron, and Ilan Mengitsu — whose brother Avraham has reportedly been hostage in the Strip since he entered it in September 2014 — continued to lobby the high-level security cabinet to vote against the deal Wednesday.
“We entered hopeful and left disappointed,” said Shaul. “Don’t sign the deal with Turkey,” she appealed to Israel’s ministers.
Earlier, Netanyahu asked Ban to use his position in the international community to help secure the release of the presumed captives and the soldiers’ remains.
“I want to thank you, Mr. Secretary, for agreeing to meet with the Goldin, Shaul and Mengistu families,” Netanyahu said at a joint press conference ahead of their meeting together at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.
Calling Hamas a terrorist organization with “genocidal aims,” Netanyahu said the group “is cruelly and illegally holding the remains of our soldiers and holding our citizens. I ask you to use your standing to help return home these soldiers and these citizens.”