While the US on Monday heaped further praise on Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu for moving toward a renewed settlement freeze, ministers and other
hardliners from his Likud party stepped up their campaign to block it, going so
far as to suggest that some of the ostensible US incentives may not hold
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Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein told The Jerusalem Post
that he and other Likud skeptics are not convinced that, despite assurances to
the contrary, the US will give its support in writing to continued Jewish
construction in east Jerusalem or to a commitment that the mooted 90-day freeze
would be the last such moratorium on new construction in the
Furthermore, Likud rebels are warning, an American promise
of a guaranteed one-year US veto in the Security Council against any Palestinian
moves to unilaterally seek statehood, rather than representing a benefit for
Israel, constitutes something of a threat, since it opens the door to the
possibility that, after the year is over, the US might in fact support
Palestinian unilateral moves.
Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Regional Planning
Committee has removed from its agenda discussions on more than a thousand
housing units in the Gilo neighborhood set for Tuesday. The municipal spokesman
refused to draw a link between the change of agenda and any political
considerations, and stressed that the city is a city like any other, with
ongoing bureaucratic issues pertaining to its natural growth.
Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that she was
encouraged by Netanyahu’s moves to push the freeze through the
“This is a very promising development and a serious effort by
Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Clinton said.
“We’re in very close touch with
the Israelis and the Palestinians, working intensively to create the conditions
for the resumption of negotiations that can lead to a two-state solution and
comprehensive peace in the region,” she said.
The US wants the resumption
of talks on all final-status issues, she said, and added that “the status quo is
In remarks marking the start of Id al-Adha, the Muslim
festival of the sacrifice, Netanyahu said, “We are trying to renew negotiations
with our Palestinian neighbors and to advance peace agreements with other Arab
But even as Netanyahu tried to sway opposing cabinet members to
support the agreement he is hammering out with the US, MKs from his own Likud
Party met in the Knesset on Monday to stop him.
Those present included:
Edelstein, coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin, Danny Danon, Yariv Levin, Tzipi
Hotovely, Miri Regev and Haim Katz.
They agreed to formulate a “lightning
campaign” intended to sway Shas not to abstain in the vote on the deal when
Netanyahu brings it to the 15- member security cabinet.
Shas has made its
planned abstention from this cabinet vote – an abstention that would likely give
Netanyahu a narrow majority in favor of the freeze – dependent on an explicit
commitment to increased building in Jerusalem throughout the period of the
freeze, and in key West Bank settlements following the moratorium’s conclusion.
Danon told the Post
that he had written a letter
to Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in which he called upon the rabbi to
“check if it is really true” and to “ask to see in writing” American commitments
regarding continued building following the end of the proposed three-month
The anti-freeze Likud MKs believe that the two Shas ministers
with votes in the security cabinet are leaning in opposite directions, with
Interior Minister Eli Yishai tending toward opposing the freeze and Construction
and Housing Minister Ariel Attias leaning toward supporting it.
opponents also want to erase Netanyahu’s narrow margin of support among the
seven security cabinet members who are expected to support Netanyahu when he
brings the deal to a vote.
Although Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie
Begin did not attend Monday’s Knesset meeting, he gave the freeze opponents a
strong boost on Monday evening when he broke two days of silence to denounce the
“Government promises must be followed through,” said
Begin, in reference to his own pledges and that of Netanyahu that the first
freeze on new construction, which ended on September 26, was a onetime
Begin, who is believed to be the man who can best rally the party’s
right wing, told Channel 2, “One should have been able to anticipate the actions
of recent days, and if they weren’t taken into consideration in advance, that is
strange to me. Someone needs to offer some explanations.”
that in speaking with cabinet members, “We decided that the main effort will be
directed in the next two days to try to convince Likud ministers and MKs that
nobody can sit on the fence on this issue.”
Edelstein, the only minister
to attend the meeting, said the antifreeze campaigners would try to have as many
Likud ministers and MKs as possible sign a letter voicing their opposition to
“I think that this is a very bad situation for the Likud,”
Edelstein responded when asked if his party could split over a second
“The participants in the meeting aren’t some extreme elements
that infiltrated the Likud. These are Likudniks. And if they remain bitter and
disappointed, it would be very serious for the party. I would not want to be the
one who has to organize and rally the faction around major issues after we go in
to a freeze.”
Should efforts to block the freeze in the security cabinet
fail, the Likud MKs promised that they would consider more serious sanctions
against the coalition, including boycotting key votes in Knesset
Meeting with the deputy chairwoman of the German Bundestag in
Jerusalem, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin also voiced discomfort with the
“The freeze has created a serious argument in both the Knesset
and the Israeli public. The possibility that Israel will stand alone before the
UN Security Council without an American veto creates a new situation in the
Middle East, and that must be examined in a long-term perspective,” Rivlin
“Israelis now wonder: What will happen next time that there is a
disagreement with the Americans? From now on, will every step that Israel takes
be measured against the threat of the Americans rescinding their veto?”
Separately, Jerusalem’s Local Planning Committee removed from its agenda for
Monday a discussion of the request of a contractor to change the designation of
a plot of land from a hotel to apartments.
The plot in southern
Jerusalem, which lies between Beit Safafa and Gilo, has already received
approval for a private entrepreneur to build a hotel. He recently decided that
he’d rather build three apartment buildings instead.
The Local Committee
made its agenda for this Monday public last Thursday, a few hours before the
marathon New York meeting between Netanyahu and Clinton.
released a statement saying the committee is bound by law to discuss such a
request, which was likely to be denied since the city encourages the
construction of hotel rooms, as the capital has a shortage of them.
Monday, the request was removed from the agenda. The municipality said in a
statement that this was done “to examine the ramifications of changing the
plot’s designation from a hotel to private living units, in light of the city’s
policy on this issue.”
A spokesman for the municipality denied that the
committee might have removed the topic from the agenda to prevent unwanted
hubbub in the current politically tense environment, and stressed that there has
never been a construction freeze in Jerusalem.