Netanyahu’s allies warn him about settlement freeze

(JTA) — A number of Israeli deputy ministers and coalition lawmakers signed a letter urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to refrain from freezing settlement construction.

The letter sent Thursday included the signatures of seven deputy ministers and 14 coalition lawmakers. It was sent by the Knesset’s Land of Israel Caucus group and also bore the logo of the Yesha Council of Settlements.

“We strongly oppose any freeze, including outside ‘settlement blocs’, and we would regard an Israeli commitment to observe such a freeze a breaking point,” the letter read.

The letter came after a report by Army Radio on Thursday that the U.S. was pressuring Israel to agree to a freeze in construction in settlements that Israel would need to evacuate in a future agreement with the Palestinians. The Obama administration has said that it will soon present a framework for a final status deal.

The term “settlement blocs” refers to areas that would remain part of Israel according to outlines discussed in past negotiations. Some of Israel’s right wing coalition partners have suggested that would consider leaving the government should a deal with the Palestinians require an Israeli withdrawal from territory.

Opposition lawmakers said in reaction to the petition that it showed the coalition hardliners, not Netanyahu, were in control of the peace process and foreign policy.

“Netanyahu is prime minister by title only,” Labor’s Isaac Herzog, head of the opposition, told Army Radio. “The acting prime ministers are deputy ministers Ze’ev Elkin, Danny Danon and Ophir Akunis of Likud’s hawkish wing.”

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