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(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will reject US President Barack Obama's request for a freeze on natural growth in Judea and Samaria, Habayit Hayehudi head Daniel Herschkowitz said Sunday, based on conversations with Netanyahu.
In an interview with the science and technology minister at his Jerusalem office, Herschkowitz told The Jerusalem Post that he did not believe Netanyahu would cross any red lines of Habayit Hayehudi, the most right-wing party in his coalition.
"From my own talks with the prime minister, I can say confidently that I don't think he will freeze natural growth in the settlements," Herschkowitz said. "I am sure he is in favor of allowing natural growth, but he must navigate smartly and walk between the rain drops to ensure that he will get along with the American administration."
Herschkowitz suggested that an arrangement could be found that could allow construction in the settlements to continue without public acknowledgment.
He said this would be preferable to the opposite scenario of press reports of settlement construction when in fact there is none.
A former resident of Madison, Wisconsin, where he was a mathematics professor at the University of Wisconsin, Herschkowitz did not hold back criticism for Obama, especially his decision to grant the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former UN human rights commissioner and longtime Israel basher Mary Robinson.
"I am disappointed in Obama's policies," Herschkowitz said. "Some of the steps he has taken, like giving a medal to Mary Robinson, are borderline anti-Semitic. Israel is an independent state. Relations with the US are important, but relations must go both ways. I don't know if Obama understands it, but most Americans believe that Israel is their only anchor in the Middle East."
Herschkowitz has been criticized by the Right for praising Netanyahu's June 14 policy address at Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center in which he conditionally endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state.
He said he himself opposed a Palestinian state, but a prime minister had to speak differently than the average politician.
"It was a good speech, because he shifted the ball to the other side by setting important conditions," Herschkowitz said. "If they can't accept recognizing a Jewish state and the end of the conflict, it shows their real face. But if they would have, there would have been something to talk about. A leader must say yes, and not just no, so it's ideal to say yes while shifting the ball back to the other side."
The Habayit Hayehudi leader said there was a consensus that Israel did not want to control the Palestinians. He said a demilitarized Palestinian state as Netanyahu outlined it would not be that different from the autonomy the overwhelming majority of the Palestinians already had.
But Herschkowitz said he did not think a peace agreement could be reached.
"It is clear that there is no partner," Herschkowitz said. "Every diplomatic plan, even the most conservative one, is wishful thinking, because there is no plan that both sides would accept."
Regarding the tensions inside Habayit Hayehudi, Herschkowitz denied charges he had made a political deal with Netanyahu to vote for his Israel Lands Authority bill, a vote that enraged the other two MKs in his party, Zevulun Orlev and Uri Orbach. His opponents in the party accused him of receiving a commitment in return from Netanyahu that he would no longer advance the mini-Norwegian bill that would have forced Herschkowitz to quit the Knesset in favor of former MK Nisan Slomiansky.
While Herschkowitz said he had a long talk with Orbach, he admitted he had not yet discussed the matter with Orlev nearly two weeks after the August 5 clash in which Orlev called Herschkowitz's behavior shameful.
Netanyahu had threatened to fire Herschkowitz had he voted against the bill. Herschkowitz's associates mocked Orlev for urging him to take a step that would have resulted in him leaving the cabinet after Orlev himself hesitated to resign from his ministerial post ahead of the Gaza Strip withdrawal.
Asked whether he believed he would still be Habayit Hayehudi's leader in the next election, he said he did not know. He noted that to obtain his present positions, he turned down two plum jobs: president of the Technion and chief rabbi of Haifa.
"Politics is very dynamic," he said. "If you would have asked me nine months ago if I would ever be an MK or a minister, I would have said no. Anything, really anything can happen."