Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday faced the prospect of open revolt from within his own party as top Likud MKs came out against his plan to freeze settlement building in return for American fighter planes.
Vice Prime Ministers Silvan Shalom and Moshe Ya'alon and Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin were among several prominent Likud rebels who signed a letter urging Netanyahu to reject an offer of 20 F-35 stealth fighters in exchange for a 90-day freeze.
Shalom, a former foreign minister, and Ya'alon, a former army chief of staff, command significant influence within the Likud, while Begin is widely seen as the party's leading rightwing ideologue and a bellweather for party opinion.
One notable absence from the list was Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, a known opponent of a new freeze. Knesset sources said Rivlin, who has in the past not shied away from public criticism of Netanayhu, had decided aginst signing on the grounds that his positions as speaker demanded neutrality.
The text of the letter, entitled 'Opposition to a renewal of the freeze in Judea and Samaria,' was altered at the last minute in order to win backing from as many Knesset members as possible.
The final version reads: "We, Likud ministers and Knesset faction members, express out opposition to the building freeze in the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria.
"The cabinet must adhere to its decision on November 25, 2009, which stated that 'With the end of the suspension, the government will once again apply the policy of the previous governments on the issue of building in Judea and Samaria.'"
The rebels hope to present the letter to Netanyahu in time to sway a cabinet vote on the American proposal, which has stalled as ministers demand clarification on future freezes and East Jerusalem.
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