Lieberman 'Key' to Cabinet Vote on Settlement Freeze

Netanyahu must win backing from skeptical foreign minister to push through decision that would prolong West bank building ban, top officials say.

A cabinet decision to extend the moratorium on settlement construction, which expired late last month, hinges on the support of either Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman or Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias, senior Likud officials told Haaretz yesterday.

The officials said that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asks the cabinet to extend the freeze, he would need the vote of Atias, a Shas minister seen as a moderate, or of Lieberman, who heads the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Archive / Tess Scheflan

But Shas officials said there was no chance of Atias allying himself with Netanyahu and said the minister would follow the lead of the party chairman, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who is widely seen as strongly opposed to the moratorium.

However, a political source speculated that if Netayahu wins Lieberman's support, Yishai might also vote in favor of an extension. Atias and Yishai were both absent from the last cabinet vote on the moratorium.

U.S. President Barack Obama has offered an incentive package in exchange for keeping settlement construction at bay.

At the moment, Netanyahu is expected to enjoy the support of ministers Gideon Sa'ar, Yuval Steinitz, Dan Meridor, Yaakov Neeman, Ehud Barak and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. The ministers expected to vote against the freeze include the three Yisrael Beiteinu ministers, along with Benny Begin, Moshe Ya'alon and Silvan Shalom.

It remains unclear whether Netanyahu intends to bring a compromise proposal before the cabinet. Knesset members who spoke to him in recent days said they were under the impression he wanted to continue construction in the settlements, but feared American and international pressure would force him to reach some kind of compromise.

Too early to discuss new freeze

Likud ministers said yesterday they had no interest in forcing Netanyahu to bring the moratorium issue to a vote. "It's too early to discuss that," one of them said.

"The pressure is directed at Israel at the moment, and it's heavy pressure," a senior political source said yesterday. "The Americans keep talking to Netanyahu, trying to persuade him to adopt a compromise that would allow for a return to negotiations with the Palestinians. But it's clear to us the pressure will shift to the Arab states by the weekend, to have the Arab League order the Palestinian Authority to resume negotiations with Israel."

The Arab League is set to meet over the weekend and discuss Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

"After the League deliberations conclude, we'll see which way the wind is blowing and what Israeli flexibility should look like," the senior political source said.