Right-wingers clash over how to handle negotiations

Knesset's Land of Israel caucus threatens to boycott Knesset votes; Akunis cautions against attempt to topple gov't.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
July 23, 2013 14:27
2 minute read.
Ulpana outpost near Beit El

Ulpana outpost near Beit El 370 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias)

MKs on the Right and mayors of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria failed to present a united front on how to handle the forthcoming peace talks with the Palestinians at a meeting of the Knesset’s Land of Israel Caucus on Tuesday.

In a repeat of divides on the Right that harmed efforts to prevent the 2005 Gaza Strip withdrawal and diplomatic deals with the Palestinians, MKs and mayors bickered over whether to oppose the talks and how to pressure Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu not to concede.

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At the insistence of Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel, caucus co-chairman MK Orit Struck (Bayit Yehudi) decided that the caucus, which has the support of nearly 50 MKs, would call for a boycott of key votes if construction in Judea and Samaria is not expanded immediately.

“We need to tell the prime minister as clearly as possible: If there is no building, there will be no voting,” Struck said. “That needs to be our slogan. If Netanyahu says there is no freeze as a precondition for talks, then we better see building – and a lot of it.”

Mocking Netanyahu’s March 2012 “nuclear duck” speech to AIPAC, Struck said that if what is happening in Judea and Samaria walked and talked like a freeze, it must be a freeze.

Deputy Minister Ophir Akunis, a former aide to Netanyahu, told Struck and the mayors that their approach to encouraging Netanyahu to allow construction and not concede to the Palestinians was counterproductive.

“It is wrong to come out of this room with a decision to boycott a Likud-led government,” Akunis said. “Not only should we not topple the government, we should strengthen it to encourage it to back the policies of the Right.”

Turning to Struck, he said, “Are you really voting against the state budget? I’m not in favor of that approach.”

Akunis and coalition chairman Yariv Levin clashed with Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, who said the caucus should not only come out against concessions in talks with the Palestinians, but also against holding the talks at all.

“We are in favor of talking as long as there are no preconditions and we know what we are seeking at the outset of the talks: Keeping all of the land of Israel and all of the settlements, while obtaining security,” said Levin, who co-chairs the caucus with Struck. “The prime minister needs to be releasing tenders [for building in Judea and Samaria], not murderers.”

The meeting was attended by 15 MKs, including Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir (Likud Beytenu), and three deputy ministers. The most surprising MK present was Elazar Stern of Hatnua, who supports the creation of a Palestinian state, but favors building in settlement blocs.

“Israel is unwilling to give up the normal lives of its people in Judea and Samaria,” Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin told the caucus.

“The world’s thinking is twisted. There is no reason for the world to think releasing murderers advances peace, while building kindergartens harms peace,” he said.

Shamir warned against concessions that he said would be tantamount to committing suicide at the negotiations.

He said it was too bad that the caucus’s existence was essential.

“It is unfortunate that we need such a caucus,” Shamir said. “France does not need a caucus for keeping France.”


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