Though the Cabinet has not yet approved the additional three-month construction freeze demanded by Obama, Netanyahu is already making contingency plans to shore up his coalition if some of his partners quit.
Opposition to the expected freeze has arisen within the Jewish Home party, the smallest member of the coalition, as well as within Netanyahu’s Likud party itself. Senior Likud members say that the coming days will be critical in determining whether he will be forced to make changes in his coalition. “He is preparing for the possibility of tremors in the party, and perhaps even a form of rebellion,” one said.
The freeze is expected to pass in the Cabinet by a narrow margin, because of the expected abstention by two Shas party members. Minister Eli Yishai, who has long outspokenly opposed another freeze, explained, “There’s a freeze going on anyway de facto, both in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria. It’s better to make it official, to limit its duration and to receive in exchange approval to build in Jerusalem, than to freeze unofficially forever.”
Shas has long been known to take a nationalist stand in words, but to take more dovish positions when it comes to actual votes. This was true in 1993, when the first Oslo Agreement vote was held; the Knesset Members of Shas abstained in the Knesset vote, thus allowing the agreements to be ratified. During the period preceding the Disengagement from Gaza, when Shas was not a coalition member party, it voted against the withdrawal – but also voted against a nationalist-proposed amendment to make the Disengagement contingent upon a country-wide referendum.
Ministers Moshe Yaalon and Silvan Shalom of the Likud say they oppose a new freeze, and Ministers Livnat, Katz and Erdan expressed a measure of opposition. Several Likud MKs will convene today in the office of Minister Yuli Edelstein to discuss ways of pressuring Netanyahu not to bring the freeze proposal for a vote.