Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu received backing from his ministers and the parties in his coalition Sunday as he faced a deepening crisis in Israel’s relations with the American administration.
While officials in Washington were quoted as saying that Netanyahu would have to choose between his ties with US President Barack Obama’s government and his coalition partners, ministers and MKs took steps to ensure that he would not have to make such a difficult choice.
Despite American pressure, not one of the 30 ministers in Netanyahu’s cabinet has expressed support for freezing construction over the pre-1967 border in Jerusalem. A check among the five Labor ministers found that they were all in favor of continuing to build in neighborhoods like Ramat Shlomo and Gilo, where the American administration opposes building.
“The consensus in Israel supports continuing to build in Jerusalem and that’s not going to change,” a Labor minister said.
In a speech to the Labor Party’s executive committee at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, Defense Minister Ehud Barak denied the charge made by Obama adviser David Axelrod that a decision to build 1,600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo was intentionally announced during US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit in order to humiliate him.
“The technical mistake during Biden’s visit was not intentional but it was undoubtedly superfluous and dangerous,” Barak said. “Our connection with the American people and our relationship of respect with the American administration and the president are important components of Israel’s security and foreign relations.
“While we are ultimately responsible for our fate, our friendship with America is important for our security and for the chance to calm down the region, and this friendship requires us to behave with mutual respect and responsibility.”
National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer suggested at the event that the escalating pressure from the Obama administration on Netanyahu would only increase the prime minister’s popularity ratings.
“The more Bibi is scolded, the more Right the people will go,” Ben-Eliezer said.
Netanyahu already received a political boost from the American pressure. He used it as an excuse to pressure hawkish Likud MK Danny Danon to postpone Thursday”s Likud Central Committee meeting that was set to focus on stopping the construction freeze in Judea and Samaria.
Danon had hoped that the central committee would pass a proposal demanding that the 10-month freeze that ends September 25 not get extended. But he caved into pressure from Netanyahu and agreed to postpone the forum on the condition that a new date for it be set within 30 days.
“I have no doubt that my proposal to restart building in Judea and Samaria would win a majority, but the prime minister is in the middle of an eternal struggle for Jerusalem, so I accepted the prime minister’s request to delay the meeting,” Danon said.
Netanyahu could receive another political boost from Obama if Kadima MKs use the American pressure on Israel as an excuse to split the party and join the coalition.
Kadima MKs who have favored joining the government for several months suggested Sunday that Netanyahu replace Shas or Israel Beiteinu with part of Kadima, but opposition leader Tzipi Livni made clear Sunday that she was not interested in working for Netanyahu.
“The truth is that there is no edict from heaven that the entire world must be against us,” Livni said, mocking Netanyahu in a Tel Aviv speech. “We need a prime minister with a path and a vision who will not abandon our security to the hands of [Shas chairman] Eli Yishai.”
Kadima MK Otniel Schneller attacked Livni, accusing her of using the crisis with the United States for political gain.
He sent a letter to Livni on Sunday night, asking her to cancel a
no-confidence motion set for Monday, because Israel as a whole is under
attack [by the American administration] and this requires unity.
Livni’s spokesman responded that the no-confidence motion would not be
withdrawn, saying that Netanyahu “is giving us more and more reasons to