Likud hawks vow to fight focus on settlement blocs

Following Netanyahu's speech in the Knesset, MKS on both right and left agreed that his speech signaled a leftward turn.

May 17, 2011 05:09
4 minute read.
Israeli flag over settlements (illustrative).

Israeli flag flutters over settlement of Ofra 311 R. (photo credit: Laszlo Balogh / Reuters)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will face a tough challenge from inside his Likud party if he gives up communities in Judea and Samaria that are outside the settlement blocs, politicians in the party vowed on Monday night following his speech in the Knesset.

Although minutes after the speech commentators labeled the address as “right-wing,” MKs from both the Right and the Left reached a rare consensus – that the premier’s speech signaled a turn leftward.

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At the beginning of Netanyahu’s speech, Arab lawmakers stood and left the room in protest, and the prime minister was actively heckled by Kadima MKs. But by the end, after Netanyahu referred to the importance of keeping settlement blocs, without emphasizing Israel’s claims over the more isolated West Bank communities, the tables had turned, and Netanyahu was heckled by the Right.

National Union chairman Ya’acov Katz left the plenum in protest, and even MK Tzipi Hotovely, a member of Netanyahu’s own faction began to shout at him.

“The Likud doesn’t know the word ‘blocs,’ and we will work to remove the word from the prime minister’s lexicon,” vowed hawkish Likud MK Danny Danon, who hosted an event earlier on Monday that was intended to pressure Netanyahu not to make any concessions during his trip to Washington that begins on Thursday.

Netanyahu’s Likud rival, Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, warned him in a Likud faction meeting that he would fall from power if he strayed too far from the party’s ideals.

“You have to maintain the path we were elected on, because if we don’t, we won’t be able to keep the coalition together,” Shalom told Netanyahu. “We want to keep the government for another year-and-ahalf and not go to elections. You should tell the Americans about everything we did for the Palestinians and then say it was all mistaken, because the Palestinians didn’t move by a millimeter.”

In a moment of agreement, National Union MKs and Kadima MKs alike said that Netanyahu’s speech had signaled that the prime minister had adopted the lead opposition party’s platform.

“It is good that finally the truth has emerged,” Katz said. “For the first time, Netanyahu stood up and declared his willingness to expel 130,000 Jews who live in the Gav Hahar [Mountain Range] region and in practice adopted Kadima’s platform, including the mass expulsion that was only paralleled by the expulsion from Spain and by the greatest haters of the Jewish people in Europe.”

Katz called on Likud lawmakers and ministers alike “to join the National Union in order to remain faithful to the platform upon which they were elected – to keep the Land of Israel in Jewish hands.”

On the other side of the political spectrum, MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima) agreed that “in his speech, the prime minister has essentially adopted Kadima’s platform. Now all he has to do is reach an agreement with his coalition partners and with the Likud central committee.”

There, however, the agreement between Katz and Zuaretz ended.

“I welcome the general policy lines presented by the prime minister that reflect the principle of two states for two peoples, and maintain the large settlement blocs while giving up on the isolated outposts,” Zuaretz said.

At the Likud faction meeting organized by Danon, Hotovely urged the prime minister to acknowledge the death of the Oslo diplomatic process and bury the vision of two states for two peoples. Danon said more than half of the Likud MKs and of the public supported annexing at least part of the West Bank if the Palestinians unilaterally declare a state at the UN General Assembly in September.

Danon presented a Geocartographical Institute poll he sponsored in the first week of May of 500 respondents representing a statistical sample of the adult Israeli population, including Arabs. When asked whether they would support annexing “settlement areas in Judea and Samaria in response to the unilateral formation of a Palestinian state,” 54.5 percent said yes, 30.4% said no, and 15% had no opinion.

“We came today to tell Netanyahu that we support him but we expect him to be strong and loyal to the principles of the Likud, despite the pressure he is facing,” Danon said. “Netanyahu needs to ask Obama whom he wants us to make a deal with? With Hamas that support Osama bin Laden? He needs to tell him, ‘if you want us to create an al- Qaida state, we say no thank you.’”

Dovish Minister-without-Portfolio Michael Eitan (Likud) rejected the annexation idea, warning that it would further isolate Israel, act as a boomerang, and harm the chances of keeping and continuing to build in the settlement blocs.

“The success of the prime minister’s visit to Washington will be judged not only by the strength of the applause at his speeches but on his ability to obtain support from the American government against the dangerous decision in the UN General Assembly pending in September,” Eitan told the Likud faction. “Coordination with the US will require diplomatic initiatives that will enable the US and Israel to persuade other countries not to back the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.”

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