Likud divided over Netanyahu's diplomatic effort

Likud remains divided ov

Likud cabinet ministers praised Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday for entering Tuesday's tripartite meeting with US President Barack Obama and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas with the upper hand, while rebel MKs in the party launched an effort to limit Netanyahu's diplomatic flexibility. Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman will not be the only Israeli politicians in the US on Tuesday. They will be joined by the fiercest critic of the peace process in the Knesset, Likud rebel MK Danny Danon. Danon came to New York to meet with Jewish leaders and congressmen in an effort to pressure Netanyahu to stick to the Likud's policies and not surrender to Obama and the Palestinians. Reacting to Netanyahu's advisers' boasts about "kicking off" a renewed diplomatic process, he warned the prime minister not to fall into a trap set for him by the American president. "Any concession of Netanyahu's won't satisfy Obama or the Palestinians, so there is no point," Danon said. "No one remembers now that Netanyahu gave in on a Palestinian state at Bar-Ilan University [in June]. "Everything he said there is now taken for granted, and in New York, Obama will push for more. The real US pressure begins now." Danon criticized Netanyahu for failing to bring a nine-month settlement freeze to the cabinet or Likud faction for approval before his trip to the US. But he said he would praise the prime minister if he left the meeting with the president without giving in. "If Netanyahu is strong and tells Obama what he really believes, he will get support from the Likud and from all of Israel," Danon said. Ministers from the Likud and other parties on the Right said Netanyahu already deserved praise for resisting American and Palestinian pressure. Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin, who has led battles against diplomatic concessions in the past, said that Netanyahu had proved his ability to stand strong for Israel's interests. "The Palestinians had misconceptions," Begin told Army Radio. "They mistakenly thought that Israel's head would be delivered to them [not on a silver platter but] on a plastic McDonald's plate. Yet that didn't happen." Habayit Hayehudi's Daniel Herschkowitz, who heads the most right-wing party in the coalition, said that even though he opposed any stoppage of Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, Netanyahu impressed him by removing public buildings, Jerusalem and 450 housing units from his understandings with the US. "I personally am not happy with any freeze, and I would vote against it, but it's definitely clear that it could have been a lot worse," Herschkowitz, who is minister of science and technology, said. "I don't think Obama will intensify pressure on Israel in New York beyond what Mitchell did. But even if there will be pressure, Netanyahu will be strong enough to withstand it." Shas chairman Eli Yishai added that he was "convinced that Netanyahu would defend Israel's interests in the face of American pressure." At the opposite end of the political spectrum inside Netanyahu's cabinet, Barak's No. 2 man in Labor, Welfare and Social Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog, said his party must unite in support of the peace process and issued a veiled threat to Netanyahu about what would happen if he let the diplomatic negotiations falter. "If it will be proven that the peace process isn't serious, and it is merely a farce intended to stall time, I will lead the process of taking Labor out of the government," Herzog said at a meeting with Labor pensioners in Jerusalem.