Most Likud MKs to rally against PM

Vice premier Shalom warns Netanyahu US-backed diplomatic process will "blow up in our face."

netanyahu head tilted 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
netanyahu head tilted 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Pressure on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu inside the Likud will intensify next week ahead of his final decisions regarding a potential settlement freeze as part of US President Barack Obama's efforts to seek Middle East peace. Amid headlines suggesting that Netanyahu has already agreed to a freeze, more than half of the Likud faction has accepted an invitation to speak at a hawkish rally at the party's Tel Aviv headquarters on Wednesday in favor of expanding settlements. The 16 MKs to attend the event include Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, ministers Gilad Erdan, Moshe Kahlon, Yuli Edelstein and Michael Eitan, and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin. Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon has not decided whether to attend, while Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin and several other lawmakers who might have come will be abroad. Organizer Shevah Stern said he expected Ya'alon to come, because the event meshed with his principles. He said the rally was not intended to be anti-Netanyahu, and that if the prime minister wanted to talk in favor of the settlements, he would be the event's sole speaker. Perhaps the most surprising speaker at the event will be Shalom, who is considered a relative dove in the party but will not miss the chance to attack the prime minister. Shalom criticized Netanyahu on the settlement issue in a series of radio and TV interviews on Thursday. "A clear, wide majority in the Likud would not give a hand to any step that would strangle the settlements, which is one of the party's banners," Shalom said. "We need to take steps to advance the diplomatic process, but with conditions, and one of them must be not freezing the settlements that we built. The Palestinians cannot ask us to make unilateral, irreversible, far-reaching concessions that impact the permanent [borders] just for agreeing to meet with us." Shalom predicted that Netanyahu and Obama's diplomatic process would "blow up in our face and lead to a dead end." By contrast, the prime minister's No. 2 in the Likud, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, backed up Netanyahu in a pre-Rosh Hashana toast he hosted for Likud activists on Thursday night at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds. "In today's complex situation, our prime minister whom we chose, Binyamin Netanyahu, must maintain all our national interests - the settlements that are the apple of our eye, Jerusalem, and also our relations with the United States and avoiding international isolation, because we will not be able to do the things that are close to our hearts if we are isolated," Sa'ar said, in what was interpreted as a reference to preventing the nuclearization of Iran. Sa'ar called on his colleagues not to be "enticed by newspaper headlines" and to instead support the prime minister, who he said sees eye to eye with the rest of the Likud but must take international considerations into account. Another Netanyahu loyalist in the party, who is very close to the prime minister, said Netanyahu had no problem with his critics speaking in favor of settlements as long as they did not judge him without knowing what he intends to do. "Bibi doesn't care any less about Judea and Samaria than anyone else in the Likud, but he is the only one who has the full picture on all the interests of the country, and he has to make decisions on existential matters even if he has to make decisions he doesn't want to make that he wouldn't make in a normal period," the Netanyahu loyalist said. "It's easy to criticize when the responsibility is not on your shoulders. Prime ministers don't demonstrate. They have to make decisions." Meanwhile, Netanyahu lost the potential of Kadima making up for a possible rebellion in the Likud when Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz announced that he was no longer in favor of his party joining the coalition. "Governments are judged by results, and the Netanyahu government hasn't provided any," Mofaz told Army Radio. "If the government had a diplomatic plan, it would never have had to get to the point where settlements had to be frozen. Chances of the party joining the government have decreased. I don't see a reason or process that could lead us into the government. There are no negotiations or talks. There isn't even a plan. And those are the most important things," he said.