By REBECCA ANNA STOIL, JERUSALEM POST STAFF
Kadima moved to put the squeeze on Labor ministers Thursday afternoon, announcing that it would cite the issue of national priority areas as the basis for the faction's no-confidence motion next Monday afternoon.
The announcement was part of an attempt to drive a deeper wedge between a number of Labor ministers - who voiced their opposition earlier Thursday against prioritizing West Bank communities - and the rest of the coalition.
During a meeting of Labor ministers Thursday, Industry Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Minority Affairs Minister Avishai Braverman and Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog, as well as MK Daniel Ben-Simon, all criticized Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's new map of "priority areas" that features dozens of settlements, including those not part of recognized settlement blocs.
In the course of the meeting, the Labor leaders decided to try and press the prime minister to change the map and remove some of the listed West Bank settlements.
Those communities cited on the map as national priority areas are slated to receive preferential governmental treatment and incentives for education, housing, infrastructure and employment. The Labor protest centered around the choice of a number of isolated communities, and the ministers said that they would prefer to see aid focused on the Negev, the Galilee and settlement blocs.
Ahead of the meeting, left-leaning Labor rebels attempted to convince ministers to break ranks with Labor Party Chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and vote against the new map.
"The time has come for the ministers to back up their words with actions," said MK Ophir Paz-Pines. "It is hard for me to believe that Barak is isolated from the topic and was not a partner in drawing up the map, especially when it is known that ministers and MKs were involved in the consultations."
Paz-Pines drew connections between the settlement freeze and the prime minister's announcement. "What are 10 months of freeze compared to the giant multi-year benefits plan? It is clear now that the decision on the settlement freeze was simply a smoke grenade in order to distract public attention away from the map of national preference, which prioritizes the settlements.
"The flow of budget funds to the settlements, according to the map, has a strategic impact on the building and development of settlements."
Ultimately, Paz-Pines warned, approval of the new map "will bring about the final end for the chances for peace, will cause an unprecedented breakdown of Israeli-American relations and will isolate Israel as the ultimate anti-peace state.
"If this map is approved by the government, the Labor party must immediately resign," he concluded.
MK Eitan Cabel also addressed the Labor ministers, firing off a letter telling them that "Barak has lost touch with reality and he proves it time after time. Are you also like him?
"Do the settlers really need this money when so much is needed in so many corners of the country?" Cabel asked.
Barak met Thursday night with Netanyahu and they agreed to delay the vote on the map at Barak's insistence from this Sunday to the one after. According to his spokesman, Barak is working to change the map to include more of the Galilee and Negev and decrease it in other places.
"He insists on Ashkelon being included because of the security challenges faced by the city," said the spokesman.
Opposition forces in Kadima were quick Thursday to jump on signs of Labor weakness a day after over half of the party's ministers were conspicuously absent from the Knesset vote to revive the National Referendum Bill.
Kadima announced in the early afternoon that the faction had submitted a no-confidence measure to be presented Monday with the title "Netanyahu is paying off the hilltop youth to keep them quiet at the expense of the periphery, settlement blocs and Israeli national interests."
"The map of national priorities turned, under Netanyahu's hand, into a political map that uses public funds to encourage isolated settlements and completely cancels out Netanyahu's statements on the topic of two states for two people," the party said in a statement.
MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima), chairman of the State Control Committee, threatened to bring the map up for debate in the Knesset committee when he called on the prime minister to brief his committee on the exact criteria that were used to create the map.
"After getting all the answers from the prime minister, I intend to conduct a hearing in order to establish whether the proper considerations went into drawing the new priority areas map or whether there were other considerations," Hasson said.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.
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