Netanyahu faces coalition threat if freeze extended

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
August 30, 2010 03:38

Habayit Hayehudi could start domino effect.

3 minute read.



Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

Binyamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: Associated Press)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition could begin crumbling if he gives in to American and Palestinian pressure to continue the West Bank construction moratorium beyond its set time limit of 10 months, MKs on the Right said Sunday.

Habayit Hayehudi MK Zevulun Orlev became the first coalition MK to openly threaten to quit the coalition, when he told a rally of supporters in Beersheba that his party would leave should the freeze continue, whether by government decision or de facto by Defense Minister Ehud Barak not signing construction permits.

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“This is a red line for us,” Orlev said. “We cannot stay in the coalition with Netanyahu if he decides on continuing the freeze directly or practically.”

Orlev called upon MKs from Likud, Israel Beiteinu and Shas to join the threat. If Habayit Hayehudi’s three MKs would leave, Netanyahu’s coalition would fall from 74 MKs to 71, which would allow Labor’s 13 MKs to bring down the government and force an election.

Habayit Hayehudi leader Daniel Herschkowitz issued a statement saying that Netanyahu has given every indication that the freeze would end on time, so there was no need to make any decision about the party’s future in the coalition. But Orlev has a personal interest in removing the party from the coalition, and he could give Netanyahu headaches.

In an effort to preempt problems with Israel Beiteinu, Netanyahu met with its chairman, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday.

Lieberman’s No. 2, National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau, told Army Radio on Sunday that his party was in the coalition now because it was the best alternative, but he warned the prime minister “not to stretch the rope too far.”

Netanyahu’s office declined to respond to the threats. He has invited all coalition MKs to his official residence in Jerusalem next Monday for a festive pre-Rosh Hashana toast.

The prime minister will hold a toast for Likud activists on Monday at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds. Likud officials expressed concern that he could be heckled at the event, due to his forthcoming direct talks with the Palestinians.

Vice Premier Silvan Shalom has pressed Netanyahu to hold a meeting of the security cabinet in which he would brief the ministers about his red lines ahead of the talks. Shalom challenged Netanyahu at Sunday’s Likud ministerial meeting.

Shalom said Netanyahu told him last week that there was no problem with convening the security cabinet only after he returned from Washington, because the meetings in Washington were merely ceremonial.

But Shalom said US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley later said the settlement issue would already be raised in Thursday’s meeting between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas at the State Department.

“I don’t believe that the meeting will be only ceremonial,” Shalom said. “We have been getting more hints from the prime minister that he would accept a partial freeze.”

Labor ministers also fought in their ministerial meeting on Sunday.

Industry, Trade, and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer scolded Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman over his threat to leave the coalition if the freeze was not extended. Braverman said Labor should demand extending the freeze by six months while forming an international committee to evaluate exceptions to the freeze.

Ben-Eliezer responded that it was wrong to attack Netanyahu ahead of his trip to Washington.

Barak himself said that Labor’s real problem was internal.

“When I returned from Camp David, politicians like [former prime minister Ehud] Olmert, [and current opposition leader Tzipi] Livni said I went too far,” Barak told the ministers.

“My views haven’t changed by a millimeter, but others have joined me. Labor has a direction. Its problem is not with its path but with its internal struggles.”


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