Right-wing ministers and lawmakers in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition are growing increasingly concerned that the premier plans to make additional gestures to the Palestinian Authority in light of intense pressure being applied on Israel by the United States, according to a report in Wednesday editions of Maariv.
The daily tabloid reported that the pro-settler Bayit Yehudi party held a secret factional meeting late Monday night during which Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel told members of Knesset that Netanyahu is considering a total freeze of construction in West Bank settlements.
The Bayit Yehudi chairman, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, is reported to have told his party deputies that he came away with the impression that intense American pressure will force Netanyahu to yield and make further concessions, according to Maariv.
Bayit Yehudi ministers speculated that Netanyahu may institute a freeze in construction of all isolated settlements located outside of the densely populated blocs that Israel will seek to annex in any final-status deal with the Palestinians, Maariv reported.
Netanyahu aides disputed the veracity of Maariv's report, saying that there are no plans to halt construction over the Green Line.
As a contingency plan to foil any future diplomatic concessions by the government toward the Palestinians, Bayit Yehudi lawmakers have agreed to coordinate their steps with the right-wing flank of Netanyahu's ruling Likud faction, which has been most vocal in its opposition to the ongoing peace talks with Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority.
Bayit Yehudi officials are said to be preparing a series of steps that would hinder the premier's ability to rule in the event that he accepts American compromise proposals as they relate to the peace process, according to Maariv.
One day after the Palestinians celebrated the third of four prisoner releases in the West Bank, Netanyahu seemed to take a harder line on the issue of settlements, telling a conference in Tiberias that peace will only come when Israel's "security" and "settlement" interests are ensured.
Placing “settlement” together with “security” is a nuance that could have significance as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives on Thursday to push forward talks with the Palestinians.
The prime minister’s remarks comes two days after the Ministerial Committee on Legislation voted to give government support to a bill that would annex the Jordan Valley, and as voices are increasingly being raised in the Likud saying it is not enough for Israel to maintain an IDF presence in the valley, but that the settlements there must remain as well.
Speaking on Tuesday night at an event marking the 49th anniversary of Fatah, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel needed to stop the “cancer” of settlement construction. The Palestinians, he said, “will not hesitate to reject any policy proposal that would detract from the Palestinian national interest, regardless of international pressure.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog wrote Netanyahu on Saturday urging him not to announce new West Bank construction during negotiations with the Palestinians.
Soon after this week's release of 26 Palestinian terrorists, Netanyahu is expected to announce plans for 600 new housing units in Jerusalem and 800 in the settlement blocs and planning processes will be set in motion for another 1,000 units.
"Israel should be announcing a settlement freeze," Herzog wrote Netanyahu. "There is no point in building when we are in the process of negotiating our final border. It is a waste of resources that can be spent elsewhere and it makes it harder to reach an agreement."
Herb Keinon and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.