By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with Likud bureau heads in the Knesset on Wednesday, the Likud High Court approved a request to convene the party's central committee for what party leaders termed "technical business," but what activists hoped would become a referendum on the recent settlement freeze.
In response to the initial request, filed by attorney David Shamron, the court determined that the key committee would be convened on December 29 to set up dates for a larger Likud meeting. But right-wing Likud activists, including MK Danny Danon, are seeking to put the sensitive issue of the settlement freeze before the famously volatile committee.
Danon, who at the beginning of the week submitted the necessary signatures to convene the central committee, welcomed the court's decision. He called on central committee chairman and Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon to conduct a secret ballot vote during the central committee meeting regarding the building freeze.
"The central committee will hear the opinions held by members of the movement and will make a determination regarding the prime minister's decision not to continue building in Judea and Samaria," said Danon, shortly after receiving the court's ruling.
Likud members opposed to the building freeze complained that Netanyahu was holding a meeting of almost four dozen local coordinators and "other cronies" in order to shore up support within the party for the building freeze. A number of Likud ministers and MKs have already made public their opposition to their chairman's move, and those opposing the freeze speculate that the right-leaning central committee will be fertile ground to gain support.
Cabinet ministers Moshe Ya'alon and Bennie Begin lodged a complaint with Netanyahu on Tuesday about "the sweeping manner" in which he had implemented the moratorium on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria.
The Likud ministers were quoted by Arutz 7 as calling the stop-work orders "draconian," because they halted not only new projects on which the security cabinet had agreed, but also building already in progress that was not supposed to be included in the freeze.
In an interview with Makor Rishon, to be published Friday, Ya'alon said, "I am fearful over the way it is being implemented in the field. Since Friday I am absorbed in it, since this is not what we hoped for. The matter in which it is executed in the field is an overall freeze of all construction. This is not what we meant. Whatever was already being built and approved should have continued to be built. There should not have been any edicts."
Ultimately it will be Netanyahu and Kahlon who will determine the order of business at the central committee meeting. Kahlon said Wednesday, following the supreme court ruling, that "it was not out of the question" that the subject of the moratorium would be brought before the committee. But the minister, who is one of the handful of Likud ministers known to oppose the moratorium, did not offer any indication that the committee would be allowed to vote on the freeze.
Netanyahu has been trying to avoid having the moratorium issue put before the central committee, but the committee's approval is not a necessary hurdle for the prime minister to overcome in pushing a particular policy.
"It turns out that the prime minister doesn't have time to meet with [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel, but he does have plenty of time to meet with Likud branch members," said Kadima spokesman Shmulik Dahan.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister's Office issued an emphatic denial of a Ynet report that quoted participants at the meeting as saying Netanyahu had said, "The Americans drove me nuts; they wanted more, also in Jerusalem."
He was also quoted as saying he would sit with the heads of the settlements and "give them things that will make them satisfied."
According to the Prime Minister's Office statement, these words were never uttered.
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