Efforts to reach an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on extending talks hit a snag on Thursday when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu lost his majority for such a deal.
American mediators have been trying to broker an agreement in which Israel releases a fourth round of Palestinian prisoners. As a gesture to Israel for releasing Israeli Arabs as part of the deal, the US intended to commute the life sentence of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard.
The deal had a majority among the 23 members of the cabinet, thanks to support from Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, all of the Likud, five ministers from Yesh Atid, two from Hatnua and two from Yisrael Beytenu.
But Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch of Yisrael Beytenu surprised Netanyahu’s associates when he told Army Radio that he opposes extending the negotiations if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas does not publicly condemn Monday’s terrorist attack that killed senior police officer Baruch Mizrachi.
Abbas condemned the attack privately in a meeting with leftwing MKs in Ramallah on Wednesday. But he refused to come out to waiting Israeli journalists who accompanied the legislators.
“If Abu Mazen [Abbas] does not condemn the attack fiercely in Arabic, there is no point in continuing the talks,” said Aharonovitch, whose vote would be crucial to pass the deal.
Multiple Likud ministers are said to be wavering over whether to support the deal. A group of Likud mayors in Judea and Samaria wrote the party’s ministers on Thursday urging them to oppose the agreement.
“We call upon you to declare that more murderers and terrorists will not be freed and there will be no more talks with the Palestinian Authority, which has proven that it supports, organizes and funds terrorism,” the mayors wrote the ministers in a letter.
Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett has threatened to remove his party from Netanyahu’s coalition if Israeli- Arab prisoners are released in the deal.
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said he would vote against it but he would give Aharonovitch and Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver the right to vote in favor.
Meanwhile, a Ma’agar Mohot poll broadcast on Channel 10 on Thursday found that if Liberman ran on a ticket with former communications minister Moshe Kahlon, the party would win 22 seats and beat the Likud, which would win 19, and Labor, which would win 18.
Kahlon said in an interview with Yediot Aharonot last week that he would return to politics but he did not know with which party. He was critical of the Likud, of which he remains a member, and complimentary of Liberman.
In a separate interview with the newspaper, Liberman praised Kahlon’s accomplishments and welcomed his comeback.