Likud rally against settlement freeze fizzles

Likud ministers agree to Netanyahu's request "not to create a perception of a rift in the party."

binyamin netanyahu cabinet 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
binyamin netanyahu cabinet 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
A much-hyped Likud rally Wednesday night in favor of continued construction in Judea and Samaria was only attended by four MKs, after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu personally pleaded with ministers and MKs not to attend. Just hours before the event at the Likud's Tel Aviv headquarters was set to begin, it still looked like as much as half the faction would show, including four ministers and coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin. But Netanyahu called Elkin and ministers Moshe Kahlon, Gilad Erdan, Yuli Edelstein and Michael Eitan and asked them to stay home. "I respect your opinion in favor of construction but the press is making the rally into a political clash, so anyone who comes would be seen as acting against me," Netanyahu told the ministers, according to one of them. "Your coming would be seen as a political statement against me and not an ideological one in favor of the settlements." One of the ministers said he told Netanyahu that he was making a mistake by silencing him. He told the prime minister that it was important that US President Barack Obama see that there was significant opposition in the cabinet to freezing West Bank construction. "What does he gain by telling me to shut up?" the minister said. "It was just a rally, not a key vote in the Knesset or something." The ministers and Elkin released a joint statement supporting construction throughout Judea and Samaria but also supporting Netanyahu and denouncing the politicization of the rally. Ministers and MKs had also canceled on an event in Ma'aleh Adumim on Tuesday after being pressured by the Prime Minister's Office. Sources close to Netanyahu expressed satisfaction that they had succeeded in preventing a rebellion inside the Likud faction. They hinted that his success could make him feel more comfortable with bringing a settlement freeze to a cabinet vote. Some 250 Likud activists packed into a small, sweat-filled room on the 14th floor of the Likud headquarters, many of them climbing 14 flights due to the dilapidated building's problematic elevators. Settler leaders and top Likud activists spoke at the event, along with MKs Danny Danon, Tzipi Hotovely, Yariv Levin and Miri Regev. "This is a rally of the Likud's reawakening after the dangerous leftward slide of our leadership," Danon told the crowd. "We are here to stop the drifting and tell the prime minister, the Likud is with you if you build in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem and resist American pressure." Danon said that if the public had wanted "weak, surrendering leadership," Kadima leader Tzipi Livni would have been elected. He said that all Netanyahu gained by shifting leftward was the temporary adulation of the press. Hotovely mocked the ministers and MKs who didn't show up. Straying from her prepared text, she said that she recently signed 14 Likud MKs on a petition against freezing settlement construction and that all 14 of them should have been there. "If it was before an election, I am sure the room would be full of MKs and ministers," Hotovely said. "The land of Israel is not just important before elections. "We won't let our voice be silenced. We who are loyal to the Likud's principles are the majority in the faction, despite what happened tonight." Hotovely said Likud MKs were not elected to form a Palestinian state but to advance the State of Israel. She said that Netanyahu should have told Obama that the people of Israel elected him to develop Judea and Samaria and the president had to respect the decision of the voters in a democracy. Danon said after the event that he was sure that "the ministers were here in their hearts." He said the next step in his efforts to prevent a settlement freeze was to draft enough signatures to force Netanyahu to convene the Likud Central Committee. Protesters from Peace Now and the right-wing Hatikva party demonstrated outside the event. Peace Now activists handed out ice pops to celebrate the settlement freeze.