A day after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that the security cabinet had approved a partial moratorium on building in the West Bank, Sports and Culture Minister Limor Livnat launched an unprecedented attack on US President Barack Obama. Speaking at a Likud activists' meeting in Beersheba, Livnat said that Israel had "fallen into the hands of a horrible American administration."
"The administration isn't what it once was; it is harder [on us]," she added.
Livnat offered her spin on Netanyahu's decision to freeze the settlements, explaining that she felt "uncomfortable."
"I know that the prime minister is in distress. The pressures are great, and it is not easy to stand up to the American president. I know what a campaign of tribulations he placed before the prime minister."
Netanyahu's office quickly denied any connection to Livnat's comments. "The statements attributed to Livnat don't reflect the prime minister's opinion in any way," the Prime Minister's Office said in an official statement.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed many times his appreciation of the brave alliance between Israel and America that has continued during the Obama administration, and [the prime minister] thanks President Obama and the American administration for their commitment to Israel's security and to achieving peace in the region."
Livnat herself later backed down from the statements, telling media outlets that she wasn't sure which words she had chosen, but repeating her opinion that the administration was being "hard" on Israel.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu's critics in his own party remained largely silent Thursday, waiting for someone else to make the next move.
At least two Likud ministers - Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan - oppose the move, as do a number of Likud MKs as well as a number of field activists.
"Freezing construction means freezing birth, continuing concessions and transferring Jews who want to settle the land of Israel. I will not lend a hand to a process that will ultimately endanger Israel's security and will not bring peace any closer," said Edelstein, shortly after Netanyahu announced the security cabinet's decision during a dramatic Wednesday night press conference. But less than a day later, the minister was quiet, biding his time and watching the unfolding drama.
One official close to the minister, who is a resident of the Judean community of Neveh Daniel, said that Edelstein is particularly interested in gauging the reaction of Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom. Erdan and Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon are also reported to be waiting to see what tack Shalom will take.
In the meantime Shalom is silent - and overseas. His office did not return any calls by The Jerusalem Post Thursday, and the Likud ministers and MKs who want to see if Shalom will take the reins of a right-wing rebel movement within the party were kept waiting.
In the months following Netanyahu's speech at Bar-Ilan University, in which he mentioned for the first time the formula of "two states for two nations," Shalom - who has historically represented the left wing of Likud - took a sharp turn, attacking the prime minister from the right.
At the same time, Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who were considered to be among the most right-leaning Likud ministers, both were at pains Thursday to explain why they supported Netanyahu's decision to initiate the moratorium. Ya'alon said that the decision would relieve some of the pressure against Israel from the international community, while Begin emphasized the temporary nature of the moratorium in creating a window for progress.
Herb Keinon and Jpost.com staff contributed to this story.