'US freeze benefits will lure Israel into political trap'

Likud minister Begin says 3-month moratorium will lead to calls for additional freezes; slams Shas for considering abstaining from key vote.

West Bank construction 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
West Bank construction 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Likud Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin voiced his opposition to a renewed settlement freeze on Tuesday, stating that renewing the construction moratorium for three months would "definitely" lead to US calls for an additional freeze in the future.
Begin, who is believed to be the man who can best rally the Likud’s right wing, said in an interview with Army Radio that "if no agreement is reached - the Americans will ask us to continue the freeze, because they have no other solution."
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Begin was also wary of US promises to fund the delivery of 20 F-35 advanced stealth fighter jets to Israel as part of a benefits package meant to convince Israel to extend the freeze. Despite Defense Minister Ehud Barak's Monday contention that the jets were more important to Israel than Likud infighting, Begin said the F-35s were a trap.

"The 20 planes offered by the US constitute an enticement meant to lure Israel into a political trap."

Begin was critical of Shas, who have said that the party may abstain from voting on whether or not to renew the freeze. A Shas abstention from the cabinet vote would likely give Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu a narrow majority in favor of the freeze.

"It's strange that when the issue is being decided, the Shas ministers leave the decision in the hands of others. They didn't even participate in the ministerial committee about the first ten-month building freeze," said Begin. "They explained that their opposition to the freeze was so strong that they weren't even willing to discuss it. Meaning, then they abstained because they were against the freeze, and now they're abstaining because they support the freeze. I don't think that's a worthy public position."
The impending vote on the US proposal was not expected to occur during the security cabinet's next meeting on Wednesday, the Prime Minister's Office stated on Tuesday.
It was unclear when the security cabinet will meet to discuss the US proposal but a cabinet vote is expected in the near future.
On Tuesday, Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias said that Shas will either vote against a proposed 90-day extension of the moratorium on settlement construction or they will abstain from such a vote, depending on the opinion of the faction's spiritual leader. Attias's comments came in an interview with Israel Radio.

"We will not support the proposal. We will either oppose it or abstain from voting, depending upon the decision of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef," said Attias.

Attias said that Shas is interested in building in Jerusalem and ensuring that any freeze would not include a moratorium on construction of homes in the capital.

Attias told Army Radio on Tuesday that Rabbi Yosef had not made his final decision because the US had not given Israel its final proposal, laying out benefits the US would give Israel in return for an extension of the freeze.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is expected to vote in favor of the freeze, said that he supported the moratorium because of US promises that no further freeze would be requested in the future.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.