On eve of Israeli-Palestinian talks, Netanyahu reassures his jittery party
With Israeli-Palestinian peace talks set to resume Sept. 2, Netanyahu may face rebellion in his Likud party over extending Israel's settlement freeze.
Hours before departing for the US to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace talks Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared at a gathering of Likud party faithful to calm supporters fretting about possible new concessions over settlement expansion.Skip to next paragraph
"I can tell you, you don't have to be worried," Mr. Netanyahu said Monday night at a Tel Aviv conference hall at a gathering to celebrate the upcoming Jewish new year. "No one can teach me or my friends about the love for the Land of Israel."
The Sept. 2 talks in Washington will mark the first direct negotiations since the end of 2008. The Israeli prime minister was responding to rising calls from his political base to resist US and Palestinian pressure to extend a 10-month settlement freeze that expires Sept. 26.
Palestinians have threatened to pull out of talks if Israel continues building in the West Bank, saying such expansion eats away at the territory they want for a future state, is a sign of bad faith, and undermines public confidence in negotiations.
Likud members, however, said that the prime minister promised that the moratorium would be temporary and that he shouldn't give any new ground.
"If Netanyahu parts from the voters' values and his promises he will find himself running alone without anyone backing him," says Naftali Bennett, a party member who attended the party and is the director of a settler group known as the Yesha Council.
Repeat of 2005 Likud rift?
The turmoil harks back to the internal Likud rift following the 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, when the party's right wing forced then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to abandon the party. There's concern that the Israeli prime minister could face a similar rebellion this time around.
In the days before the party send off, at least four Likud cabinet ministers and a top parliament member made public appeals to the prime minister not to yield to Palestinian demands for an extension of the freeze.
A survey of 410 party members commissioned by the settler group found that 61 percent believe that the party would split if the prime minister agrees to extend the freeze.