Jewish settler leaders are ratcheting up the pressure on Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett over what they say is the religious Zionist party's silence in the face of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's unspoken policy of a freeze in construction over the Green Line.A new campaign was launched throughout pro-settler news outlets and social media platforms on Friday under the banner "Bibi is freezing us, while Bennett keeps quiet."The campaign is urging Bennett and his party to refrain from voting for government initiatives in parliament until Netanyahu authorizes more construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Bayit Yehudi officials appear to be attentive to the discontent from their rank-and-file over the perceived halt in construction. A Yesh Atid bill passed in a preliminary vote Wednesday because two Bayit Yehudi MKs were absent in protest over a lack of construction in Jerusalem.The rebellion in the coalition was coordinated with Bennett.A bill by former welfare minister MK Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid) limiting to 60 the number of cases a social worker can take on passed a preliminary reading 44-42, with Bayit Yehudi MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli and Bezalel Smotrich leaving the plenum ahead of the vote.Smotrich wrote on Twitter that he missed the vote “in protest over Netanyahu breaking his many promises to build in Jerusalem. In a coalition, promises must be kept. When you don’t build in Jerusalem, there are consequences in the coalition.”Moalem-Refaeli said, “The unity of Jerusalem is no less important than the coalition’s unity. If the prime minister forgets to build in Jerusalem, I will forget how to vote in the plenum,” she quipped.Yesh Atid celebrated the victory, the third for the opposition since the election.“This is important news for social workers and the welfare system in Israel. Responsibility has trumped politics,” Cohen said.In the Likud, MK Yoav Kisch called the result an embarrassment. “Because of continued negligence, the will of the voters is not being expressed,” he said. “I call on the prime minister and faction leaders to deeply examine the matter. We cannot let it turn into a habit.”Last month, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon denied suggestions that Netanyahu had promised the Obama administration that Israel would institute a freeze in construction over the Green Line.“We haven’t frozen construction,” Ya’alon told Israel Radio. “No decision was taken to do so.”The only freeze Netanyahu has ever imposed was a moratorium on settlement starts for ten months from November 2009 to September 2010. That moratorium was the result of American pressure, but in the end, it didn’t lead to anything, Ya’alon noted.“Since then we have been building,” he said.One of the Palestinians’ criteria for the resumption of talks with Israel is a freeze on settlement construction and Jewish building in Judea and Samaria. It has also turned to the International Criminal Court, which has yet to make a decision on the issue.The US has termed such construction as harmful to the peace process, but Ya’alon said he didn’t believe that halting building over the pre- 1967 lines would move the peace process forward. “The Palestinians didn’t come to the [negotiating] table even when we froze construction,” Ya’alon said.Israel, he said, has continued to build responsibly in Judea and Samaria with an understanding that such activity is under “unjust” intense international scrutiny, both legally with regard to the ICC and from the UN Security Council.Lahav Harkov and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.