Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forbade ministers from his Likud party to attend Tuesday's launch of the Knesset's Land of Israel caucus.
The caucus is headed by MKs Orit Strock (Habayit Hayehudi) and Yariv Levin (Likud). Its goals are "preventing any harm to settlement and security" in the West Bank, "advancing legislation that will strengthen settlement" and "prevent any harm to it," "bolstering the legal status of the Jewish people in the entire Land of Israel," "directing state resources to strengthening settlement and security" in the West Bank, and "rectifying the grave mistake of the disengagement [from Gaza] and preventing its recurrence."
Though ministers can't formally belong to any Knesset caucus, several Likud ministers had sent letters welcoming the group's establishment, including Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar, Culture Minister Limor Livnat and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz. But none actually attended Tuesday's event, and Haaretz has learned that this was on Netanyahu's orders.
A senior Likud source explained that Netanyahu didn't want any of his ministers caught making embarrassing declarations like those made last week by Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, who said the government doesn't support the two-state solution. Netanyahu has been trying ever since to convince the world that Danon doesn't represent the government's position.Thus the only ministers who did attend were Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, both of Habayit Hayehudi, and Tourism Minister Uzi Landau of Yisrael Beiteinu (which ran on a joint ticket with Likud in the last election but remains an independent party).
Deputy ministers from Likud did attend, however, including Tzipi Hotovely and Ofir Akunis - though not Danon. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) also came. The Prime Minister's Office declined to comment.
Strock stated in response that the caucus' goal is to back the government, most of whose members agree with the caucus' goals. She noted that many ministers had attended the event and spoken warmly there.