Diplomatic talks won’t threaten coalition – for now

Criticism inside Netanyahu’s Likud is muted; Feiglin: PM can’t be stopped from within party.

Binyamin Netanyahu (photo credit: Associated Press)
Binyamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: Associated Press)
None of the right-wing parties in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition expressed opposition on Sunday to restarting diplomatic talks with the Palestinian Authority, and the far right inside his Likud Party said there would be no protests.
Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who opposed indirect talks with the Palestinians, has endorsed the direct negotiations and even insisted on his Foreign Ministry being represented on the negotiating team. Habayit Hayehudi head Daniel Herschkowitz downplayed the talks, noting that history has proven that when Israel stretches out its hand, the Palestinians unceremoniously reject it.
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Shas chairman Eli Yishai, who threatened to quit former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s government if Jerusalem was raised in diplomatic talks, has not insisted that Netanyahu refuse to speak about the capital’s fate with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. The two discussed the talks on Sunday but their offices declined to provide details.
Inside Netanyahu’s Likud Party, far-right activist Moshe Feiglin said that unlike in past talks with the Palestinians going back to the Oslo Accords, he would not be leading a public battle against the government.
He said he also would not try to exploit the Likud’s institutions to fight against Netanyahu.
“Netanyahu cannot be stopped via a Likud central committee meeting this time,” Feiglin said. “This is much bigger than the Likud.
“The public has been lulled into thinking it is inevitable that the Iranians will have a bomb and the Palestinians will have a state, and Likud members are no different,” he said.
“I am not surrendering, but in this atmosphere, Netanyahu cannot be stopped from inside the Likud.”
The only political opposition Netanyahu faced on Sunday came when Vice Premier Silvan Shalom asked him during a meeting of Likud ministers whether the settlement freeze would be extended beyond 10 months and whether he had verified that the Quartet’s statement that indirectly refers to the settlement freeze was not binding.
“Starting negotiations is positive but if it will lead to continuing the freeze, the talks are doomed to failure,” Shalom said.
Netanyahu responded that there had been no change in the cabinet decision to end the freeze on September 26.
When Shalom asked for Israel’s red lines in talks with the Palestinians to be set by the cabinet or security cabinet, Netanyahu accepted his request but said such a meeting would likely not take place before the September 2 kickoff of talks in Washington, which the prime minister said was merely “symbolic and ceremonial.”
The Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria warned that US Secretary of State Clinton’s announcement initiating the talks “created unrealistic expectations that will ultimately lead to violence instead of peace.”
“If history is any indicator then this announcement will invite further instability to the region,” council chairman Danny Dayan said.
“Both the goal and the time frame are unrealistic. Thus, frustration is inevitable and with it comes the potential for widespread violence and loss of life on all sides.”
Dayan also called on Netanyahu to fulfill government promises that construction in the settlements would resume on September 26.
“The people of Israel fully expect their leaders to abide by their statements,” said Dayan.
Reaction to the restarting of talks was mixed in Labor. Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog (Labor) expressed optimism that the talks would lead to a breakthrough.
He said he expected the negotiations to have political implications that, he hinted, could result in right-wing parties leaving the coalition.
Labor MK Amir Peretz said that with such low expectations, any accomplishment at all would be a positive surprise.
He said the fate of the talks rested with Netanyahu, who will have to decide whether to extend the construction moratorium.
“The talks can only succeed if the prime minister continues the freeze,” Peretz said. “I hope he realizes the bulldozers cannot be restarted on September 26 because if they are, it would bulldoze any chances for diplomatic progress and peace.”