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(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will return from his European trip to find that two Likud rallies have been organized to express opposition to the settlement freeze he reportedly negotiated with US envoy George Mitchell in London.
The first, scheduled for Tuesday at Tel Aviv's Azrieli Tower, was organized by Minister-without-Portfolio Yossi Peled. It is not officially an anti-Netanyahu rally but rather a "pro-Jerusalem event," and yet MKs who attend are expected to bash the deal the prime minister is negotiating with the Americans.
The second, set for September 9 at the Likud's Tel Aviv headquarters, openly opposes any freeze on construction in Judea and Samaria and will launch a "National Forum" in the Likud that will actively oppose concessions to the US.
Three ministers have told organizers they will attend the event: Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon, and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein. Organizers still hope to attract Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon and Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin to the rally.
"We aren't pressuring ministers to come," said organizer Shevah Stern, a Likud activist from Shilo in the Binyamin Region. "We want to allow Likud activists to express their support for building in Judea and Samaria to the MKs. When judgment day comes, we will only support MKs who are with us on that."
In a related matter, Pinchas Wallerstein, the director-general of the settlers' council, said on Thursday: "When Netanyahu talks of a Palestinian state, I hate it, but am not worried, because there will be no peace deal. When Netanyahu speaks about a settlement freeze, it's a death sentence for the settlement enterprise."
Speaking on the 30th anniversary of the Binyamin regional council of which he was head, Wallerstein added: "There will be no construction freeze in Binyamin."
National Forum member Yitzhak Klein of Ma'aleh Adumim said it was founded "to support traditional Likud policies, such as the development of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, strengthening Israel's character as a Jewish state, and reducing the power of unelected elites who wish to dilute that character."
Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely, who will attend both events, said she did not believe either was a rebellion against the prime minister.
"The government was formed on the basis of Judea and Samaria being legitimate and no different than Jerusalem," she said. "We must keep our campaign promises against freezing growth. We aren't trying to topple Netanyahu but to pressure him to stay loyal to what he believes in, despite international pressure."
But Likud MK Danny Danon had no problem with criticizing Netanyahu personally. He condemned the prospect of restarted peace talks with the Palestinians.
"The Middle East is not a Hollywood movie," Danon said. "The Americans are trying to create an imaginary partner for negotiations that is neither interested, nor able, to reach peace with Israel.
"Netanyahu's surrender to American pressure on freezing construction will only lead to more demands and concessions, without receiving anything in return from the Palestinian side," he said.
The prime minister could also have problems with Habayit Hayehudi, the most right-wing party in his coalition. Party chairman Daniel Herschkowitz toured Gush Etzion settlements and outposts on Thursday and expressed opposition to freezing construction there.
"It is forbidden to compromise on natural growth in the settlement blocs," he said. "The right of every family to grow is natural and fundamental in a democratic society. The government should settle the legality of Jewish communities that are known as unauthorized outposts even though they were built with the government's encouragement and funding."
The National Union, which is not part of the coalition, warned that Netanyahu would cave in to the United States and endanger Israelis.
"The blueprints of the Auschwitz camp that Netanyahu received in Germany should remind the frightened prime minister of what [former foreign minister] Abba Eban said - that the '67 borders were Auschwitz borders. The surrendering Likud is bringing us back there," National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari said.