Israeli Government’s Fissures Widen as Ministers Differ on Peace

Divisions in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition sharpened today, as he and top ministers sparred over how to deal with the Palestinians in the wake of collapsed peace talks.

At a meeting of his Likud party’s parliamentary faction, Netanyahu jabbed at Finance Minister Yair Lapid for presenting a peace plan that could include the unilateral withdrawal from some Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

“We cannot allow a lack of experience, especially in security matters, to lead us to a program with reckless results, as they would be with disengagement,” he scoffed about Lapid, a former journalist who entered politics two years ago. “Disengagement” is the word Israel used to describe its 2005 evacuation of settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip, which Netanyahu opposed.

Cracks in the coalition also emerged over Israel’s boycott of the new Palestinian government sworn in last week. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who led the negotiations with the Palestinians that collapsed in April, said today that the government was hasty in cutting off contact with the Palestinian government because it is backed by Hamas, which Israel, the U.S. and European Union consider a terrorist group.

Citing the absence of Hamas ministers in the Palestinian cabinet, Livni told Army Radio that “to announce we are boycotting them, while the world is judging them according to conditions we set, isn’t the right thing to do.”

Ideological Rifts

Netanyahu has said he won’t return to peace talks as long as Hamas supports the Palestinian government. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said the Palestinian Authority will abide by international principles, which include honoring past agreements with Israel and renouncing violence.

The ideological rifts within Netanyahu’s coalition are threatening to tear it apart. Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party is the second-biggest faction in the coalition, said yesterday at a conference in Herzliya that he would bring down the government if it adopted Economy Minister Naftali Bennett proposal to unilaterally annex areas of the West Bank.

Bennett’s Jewish Home Party, the third-biggest faction in the government, supports settlement-building and opposes Palestinian statehood.

Livni said yesterday that her Hatenuah party would also withdraw its support for the government if it tries to annex any part of the West Bank without Palestinian consent. Hatenuah and Yesh Atid command 25 of the coalition’s 68 parliamentary seats, in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset.

The Israeli government has declared support for Palestinian statehood under certain conditions, including demilitarization. The Palestinians, who seek to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, oppose any Israeli settlement of territory they claim for a homeland.

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