The cabinet voted on Sunday to grant 5,000 new work permits to Palestinians, but redacted from the resolution a clause saying the permits are a goodwill gesture in the revival of the peace process, after pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from right-wing ministers.
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The proposal introduced by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is one in a series of economic gestures Israel is making toward the Palestinian Authority as peace talks resume after a three-year hiatus. The version of the resolution made available to cabinet ministers before the long Rosh Hashanah weekend said the new permits would be issued “as part of the preparations for talks with the Palestinians and out of a desire to help the Palestinian economy.”
Even before the meeting, however, Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) and Tourism Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beiteinu) announced they would vote against the resolution because they opposed making further gestures to the Palestinians in exchange for returning to the negotiating table.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) was the first to voice criticism during the meeting, demanding Netanyahu amend the resolution. Bennett said he supported an increase in the number of work permits for Palestinians regardless of the peace talks and that he opposed linking them in the resolution, according to a source at the meeting. After Bennet spoke, Ariel and Landau joined him.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni tried to counter the right-wing ministers, another source at the meeting said. Lapid told them he did not understand why they were upset over Netanyahu's support for the two-state solution, adding that he too is a proponent. Netanyahu interrupted Lapid, and said he supports the two-state solution adding that he is against having a single state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Livni said linking the increase in work permits to the peace talks would strengthen Israel’s international status. “It’s not a condition for the talks, but a way to aid them,” she said. “[U.S. Secretary of State] John Kerry fought against the European Union’s sanctions not to bring Chinese workers to Israel but he did so in the name of the peace process. The world’s behavior toward us is political, not economic, so if it were not for your ideology, you should have fought without hesitation to support this process.”
In the end, Netanyahu caved in to pressure from the right and ordered the sentence redacted. He justified his decision by saying he had been persuaded the gestures should not be perceived by the Palestinians as a condition for the peace talks. With the change made, the resolution passed by a large majority.