Security cabinet members skeptical over new freeze

“Since Israel carried out first freeze, Palestinians have just gotten further away from negotiating table,” MK Tzipi Hotovely says.

Dan Meridor 311 (photo credit: The Israel Project)
Dan Meridor 311
(photo credit: The Israel Project)
Political efforts within the coalition to defeat the security cabinet’s approval of the 90- day settlement freeze continued full steam ahead Tuesday evening, even as diplomats confirmed that the US had yet to give a written pledge for an incentives package.
While Likud MKs opposed to the freeze circulated a letter to their fellow faction members, more ministers in the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet joined the category of vocal skeptics on the initiative.
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“Since Israel carried out the first freeze, the Palestinians have just gotten further away from the negotiating table,” MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), one of the leaders of the anti-freeze effort, told The Jerusalem Post.
“Their stubborn refusal to recognize Israel as the Jewish people’s state, and the impossible demand to freeze building also in Jerusalem prove that the Palestinians are attacking peace,” she asserted.
“The Likud faction opposes renewing the freeze in numbers that would have an impact. The prime minister must listen to his faction before making significant decisions that have diplomatic implications, and must stand by his earlier promises.”
Following through with one of the steps determined during a strategic planning meeting Monday, the anti-moratorium Likud MKs aimed to get as many signatures as possible on their letter to faction members.
The brief letter, addressed to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, was rewritten to attract the maximum number of signers.
“We, Likud ministers and MKs, express our opposition to a building moratorium in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria,” it read. “The decision made by the ministers of the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet on November 26, 2009, that ‘with the end of the suspension, the government will return to carrying out the policies of previous administrations on the topic of building in Judea and Samaria’ must be carried out.”
Although seven Likud faction members participated in Monday’s planning meeting, and an additional five have already expressed their opposition to the freeze plan, the gathering of signatures was slow-going Tuesday evening.
In the meantime, key ministers in the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet began to voice increased skepticism regarding the American commitments reportedly offered to Israel to sweeten the deal.
Although in the morning, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio that he supported the moratorium because of US promises that no further freeze would be requested, sources close to the finance minister said that while Steinitz believed “you need to support the prime minister,” he “won’t make a final decision until he sees an agreement in writing.”
Shas also voiced new reservations about the party’s intentions for its two cabinet ministers to abstain from any vote on the freeze. A Shas abstention from the cabinet vote would likely give Netanyahu a narrow majority in favor of the freeze, whereas Shas’s vote against it would guarantee its failure.
Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias said that Shas would either vote against a proposed 90-day extension of the moratorium or abstain, depending on the opinion of the faction’s spiritual leader.
“We will not support the proposal. We will either oppose it or abstain from voting, depending upon the decision of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef,” said Attias during an interview with Israel Radio.
In previous comments, Interior Minister Eli Yishai had said Shas would abstain, arguing that the abstention was solely dependent on assurances that building would continue in Jerusalem in general, and in the West Bank after the end of the 90-day freeze.
Attias said Yosef had not made his final decision because the US had not given Israel its final proposal, laying out benefits Israel would receive in return for an extension of the freeze.
On Monday, MK Danny Danon (Likud) sent a missive to Yosef, calling upon the rabbi to “ask to see in writing” American commitments regarding continued building after the end of the proposed threemonth moratorium.
Outside of the Knesset, activists are maintaining pressure on the government by threatening to hold a warning strike throughout the West Bank this coming Sunday.
Local governments, including the Samaria and Binyamin regional councils and the local councils of Efrat, Kedumim, Karnei Shomron, Kiryat Arba and Beit El, have already announced that they will participate in the strike, which will include the closure of all municipal services and educational institutions.
During the strike, West Bank residents also plan to protest outside Sunday’s cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.