Pressure mounts on PM to reject US ‘benefits package’

Several Likud ministers oppose Netanyahu's plan to extend settlement freeze; poll shows majority of Israelis support West Bank construction.

Netanyahu Headshot 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Netanyahu Headshot 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has begun efforts to persuade Likud cabinet members to support a deal with the US in which Israel would limit construction in Judea and Samaria for 60 days in return for American promises, Likud officials confirmed on Sunday.
While the proposal has not been finalized, Netanyahu’s associates have started making inquiries with the ministers, asking them to be flexible.
RELATED:Opinion: The region - An offer he had to refuseEditor's Notes: Caught by a red herringMitchell: Neither side wants to stop direct talks'US promises are like a poison pill in a candy wrapper'
The benefits would reportedly include upgrading the IDF, letting the army remain in the Jordan Valley following an Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, and a promise not to ask Israel for a further moratorium.
But reports about ministers who were considering voting in favor of the deal forced the reportedly wavering ministers to issue flat denials on Sunday. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz already expressed opposition to restarting the construction freeze in a 7 a.m. radio interview and Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon later followed suit.
Following those pledges, Netanyahu would have little to no chance of passing a proposal that would limit construction in the cabinet, security cabinet or septet. No votes have been scheduled ahead of this weekend’s key Arab League summit in any forum of ministers.
A strong majority of Israelis support continuing West Bank construction, a Dahaf Institute poll broadcast on Channel 2 Sunday night found.
Fifty-four percent of respondents said the government should be building in Judea and Samaria and only 39% support a further moratorium.
The poll also found that if an election were held today, Labor would fall to six Knesset seats from the current 13.
National Union MK Arye Eldad responded to the poll by saying that “Netanyahu must stop being afraid and stop giving into the extortion of [Labor chairman Ehud] Barak, who has no influence in the Knesset.”
Eldad warned the prime minister that “if he gives into pressure and American enticements, he will lose the support of the public and share Barak’s fate.”
Peace Now reacted by lamenting that “the public has been brainwashed by the government and the settlers and has not internalized the price Israel is paying for the settlements.”
“They have bought the stories about the freeze harming average Israelis instead of helping Israel diplomatically,” Peace Now director-general Yariv Oppenheimer said.
“I am a bit pessimistic,” Oppenheimer said. “I think it is pretty clear that Netanyahu is not serious [about peace].”
Should the direct talks with the Palestinians collapse, he said, Peace Now plans to stage a massive rally on behalf of a negotiated solution.
“We hope it will be big enough to have an effect,” Oppenheimer said.

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.