Analysis |

As Peace Negotiations Get Closer, Netanyahu’s Coalition Gets Fractious

According to one Likud official, the party may even split in the near future over the resumption of talks with Palestinians.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has managed so far to avoid major opposition in Likud and the rest of the coalition over U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement of renewed talks with the Palestinians. No one in Likud has attacked Netanyahu personally over the move and cabinet ministers, including some strongly opposed to an agreement with the Palestinians, have expressed public support for the move. One cabinet member chalked up Likud’s equanimity to an assumption that the parties are in no danger of obtaining a far-reaching agreement anytime soon.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz ‏(Likud‏) said Sunday that he supports the renewal of talks but is opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state. “There is no Israeli commitment to release prisoners. I am not oblivious to what this means. If such a thing comes up, I’ll vote against it,” he said. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon expressed cautious support in principle for the renewed talks.

Netanyahu’s opposition within the party, led by deputy ministers Danny Danon and Tzipi Hotovely and MK Miri Regev, focused criticism over the past two days at Israel’s willingness to release Palestinian murderers from prison as a confidence-building measure. Regev asked the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to hold an urgent session on the matter with the participation of Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to examine the implications of such a release.

Regev has also called a meeting of the Knesset Interior Committee, which she heads, to discuss the matter, summoning representatives from the Israel Prison Service and other agencies.

Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin warned Sunday that Likud could split, recalling how Kadima, which had had 28 seats in the last Knesset, had gone down to only two in the current one. “I am not opposed in principle to negotiations per se. We live alongside the Arabs and it’s always preferable to talk than not to talk.” But Elkin said that he remained true to the position of the Likud Central Committee against a Palestinian state.

“It’s no secret that in this, I, like most of my friends, apparently differ with the prime minister. And this is a deep, significant ideological difference,” Elkin said. He added, however, that the difference was only “theoretical” as he did not believe the talks would bear fruit.

One Likud lawmaker who opposes the talks and did not want to be identified in this article said he expected the party to split in the near future over the resumption of talks.

“It’s clear to everyone that the move was forced on Netanyahu and that’s the way we’re treating it. The chance that this will lead to a significant agreement is slim. In any case, Netanyahu said he would hold an election or a referendum on any document that is formulated so there is no reason to weaken him now,” the source said.

Indeed, Netanyahu himself said Sunday: “I don’t think that decisions like this can be made, if indeed an agreement is reached, in some sort of coalition move. Rather, this thing has to be brought before the people to decide.”

While a split in Likud did not seem imminent, figures close to Netanyahu said Sunday they were concerned over potential rift in Habayit Hayehudi over the renewal of talks. They said that while they believed Habayit Hayehudi chairman Economy Minister Naftali Bennett would remain loyal to the coalition, the party’s Tekuma faction, headed by Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel, will work against the process as soon as the parties begin to discuss the core issues of borders and the evacuation of settlements.

Ariel settled Sunday for citing Netanyahu’s pledge not to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 borders, although he added that Tekuma would oppose the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Sources in Yesh Atid, however, rejected talk of Habayit Hayehudi splitting up, noting that party leaders knew such a move would significantly reduce their power and adding that Bennett and Ariel are in agreement on this point.

One source close to Netanyahu said the renewal of negotiations would make it hard for the coalition to function in the near future. “The fact that the announcement of the negotiations came out even before the Knesset passed the state budget could create quite a headache. There is certainly a possibility that MKs and ministers identified with the hard-core right will try to flex their muscles in the budget talks,” the source said.

Meanwhile, President Shimon Peres Sunday urged Labor Party chairwoman MK Shelly Yacimovich to rally her party around the cabinet in order to advance the peace process. Peres suggested that Labor could join the coalition if Habayit Hayehudi bolts. At a meeting Sunday, Yacimovich told Peres she would support Netanyahu from the opposition benches.

Cabinet members − from left: Yisrael Katz, Sofa Landver, Yuval Steinitz, Benjamin Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni, Limor Livnat, Shay Piron, Yair Lapid− at the Begin Center in Jerusalem. June 21st, 2013.

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