Benjamin Netanyahu facing cabinet revolt over peace talks

The Australian (Link) - John Lyons (September 7, 2010)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to fend off anger from his own cabinet about his handling of renewed peace talks while also seeking a compromise over a partial extension of the freeze on Jewish settlements.

Mr Netanyahu�s balancing act came as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned that his party, Yisrael Beiteinu, would prevent any extension of the freeze.

�Yisrael Beiteinu has enough power in the government and in parliament to ensure that no such proposal succeeds,� Mr Lieberman told Army Radio.

He publicly attacked the peace talks yesterday and said they would lead to �a dead end;� Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom also confronted Mr Netanyahu in a meeting yesterday, saying the way he was conducting the process was �inappropriate.�

According to Israeli media, Mr Shalom told him: �There was not as much as one meeting that dealt with government policy ahead of negotiations with the Palestinians. I cannot recall such a situation in which things are done without discussion - this is inappropriate and not right.�

It was reported Mr Netanyahu responded: �When it becomes necessary to reach decisions, I will convene a meeting.�

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, a major supporter of the peace process, said it was unlikely the government�s 10-month freeze on building in settlements in the West Bank, which expires on September 26, would be continued in its current form.

Palestinians have said they will walk away from talks if that freeze ends. It is understood US negotiators are trying to come up with a compromise that will enable Mr Abbas to argue that he should remain at the table.

Mr Barak said he did not think it was reasonable that a complete freeze continue but that Israel would attempt to convince Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to agree to �a partial renewal of construction.�

It is believed Israel is considering that growth in smaller settlements and outposts continue to be frozen but that in major settlement blocs it resume.

Some settlers have resumed construction following the killing of four Jewish settlers by Hamas in the West Bank last week.

The sensitivity of the talks was highlighted yesterday when Israel cancelled a meeting between its head negotiator, Yitzhak Molcho, and his Palestinian counterpart, Saeb Erekat, after details of the planned meeting became public.

Mr Erekat surprised many observers yesterday when he told Israel Radio Hamas might be willing to accept a peace agreement if �the core issues� were resolved.

While there was scepticism about the new talks, a flurry of planned meetings has made many commentators consider that perhaps they might succeed.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will fly to Egypt on Friday to meet Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas.

The following day, the three will meet in Jerusalem - the first official visit to Jerusalem by Mr Abbas for two years.