Likud faction reluctantly goes along with freeze, looks ahead to 'the morning after'

Likud faction reluctantl

danny danon 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
danny danon 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
After what one MK described as an emotional appeal by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Likud representatives not to divide the party, it seemed Sunday that the premier's Knesset faction was willing to go along with the decision to impose a 10-month settlement freeze - for now. "There are those who can say that we are going to dismantle the settlements in Judea and Samaria, and that we should therefore dismantle the Likud," Netanyahu told the nine gathered Likud MKs at the meeting in his Jerusalem office. "But we need to understand that the intention is exactly the opposite, and that's why unity of the Likud is so important." Netanyahu said this step was difficult for him and all of the Likud ministers, but that the "bottom line is that this is a one-time step for a limited time period that protects Israel's broadest interests." A number of Likud ministers, as well as two MKs - Tzipi Hotovely and Danny Danon - have been outspoken in their opposition to the plan. Last week, Danon launched a campaign to force a vote on the moratorium during an upcoming Likud Central Committee meeting scheduled for late December. Danon is part of a parliamentary delegation visiting Australia, so he did not attend the Sunday afternoon meeting. The remaining eight MKs - Ze'ev Elkin, Ofir Akunis, Tzion Pinyan, Miri Regev, Yariv Levin, Carmel Shama, Haim Katz and Ayoub Kara - have refrained from speaking out directly against the prime minister. Kara, Levin, Regev and Elkin both oppose the freeze in theory, but neither is willing to act against their party chairman. According to MKs who were present, Regev, Elkin, Hotovely and Levin did, however, vent their dissatisfaction during the closed-door meeting with Netanyahu. Katz and Kara remained silent on the subject throughout the entire session. Technically, the prime minister, who has yet to bring the freeze to a vote in the cabinet, let alone the Knesset, has little to fear from a handful of wayward MKs. But he needs their help in a war of attrition that has been launched in a handful of committees. At least two committees - the Finance Committee and the Judea and Samaria Subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee - have held hearings on the freeze, and in the latter, Hotovely and Elkin backed resolutions that were highly critical of the government. In the meeting, MK Ofir Akunis submitted to Netanyahu a letter containing a long list of proposals designed to make settlers' lives easier. Akunis suggested speeding up the construction of public buildings, especially educational facilities; to include West Bank communities in the list of areas of national preference; to make exceptions to the freeze for Gush Katif evacuees and to approve building projects that will be started immediately at the close of the 10 months. "Everything must be done so that residents' lives will continue as usual, just like in every other part of the country. It is important to maintain the Likud's unity, and to stand behind the prime minister's leadership, and not to repeat mistakes made in the past," said Akunis, echoing the prime minister. "The experience already taught us that when the right brings down a Likud prime minister, the results are Oslo Agreements or the Camp David offer which constitute a return to the '67 boundaries and the removal of all of the settlements." Hotovely later described Netanyahu's appeal for unity as "emotional." She said that she challenged the prime minister, asking him whether the moratorium was "the Likud's way." "The Likud must not become the enemy of the settlers," said Hotovely during the meeting. "We can not forget our promises to our voters. It is important to remember that the Likud faction ranges between Meridor and Begin and not between Barack Obama and Ehud Barak." Hotovely, like Akunis, called on Netanyahu to approve building plans that will be ready for "the morning after" and to act to recognize the University Center at Ariel as Israel's next university. Netanyahu acknowledged there were "unpleasant difficulties" as a result of the decision, but that some of them were possible to solve. This is the reason, he said , that a special committee was set up Friday that includes Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Minister Bennie Begin, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot, and Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser. Hauser on Sunday would give no details of the deliberations by the committee, which has already started to work. Netanyahu said that the government's aim was to "preserve" as much as possible in a very difficult diplomatic reality. "We are trying to preserve as much as possible, as opposed to others who want to give up as much as possible," he said. The prime minister ended the meeting with what sounded a bit like wishful thinking, saying that his talks with Likud ministers and MKs have left him feeling that internal party unity "exists and is strong. "People are hurting, they have opinions, and there can be disagreements," he said. "But we all believe in preserving the Likud."