Habayit Hayehudi poised to exit government if Israeli Arab terrorists are released, while Yesh Atid, Hatnuah threaten to resign coalition if peace talks stall further, but everyone seems to agree the Palestinians are to blame for crisis in peace talks.
The uncertainty surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has rippled through the government, as Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett's threat to leave the coalition if Israel releases Israeli Arab terrorists was compounded over the weekend by threats by the Yesh Atid and Hatnuah parties, with each saying that it would resign from the government unless the current peace talks impasse is overcome. Still, it seems that all parties prefer to wait until after the Passover holiday before pursuing any drastic measures.
The deal that would include the release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard from American prison remains on the table. Sources familiar with the workings of the coalition said that the main bone of contention within the Israeli government remains the potential release of 14 Israeli Arab terrorists as part of the fourth stage of the prisoner release. Several measures are currently being explored related to this matter, including the possibilities of revoking the Israeli Arab prisoners' citizenship or deporting them, but Israel appears adamant that any measure it takes must be met by the Palestinians' agreement to suspend applications to international bodies and conventions.
Habayit Hayehudi sources said Friday that the party would not resign from the government over a restraint on construction in Judea and Samaria, or over the concept of a prisoners' release -- unless it includes Israeli Arab terrorists.
Bennett said Thursday that the Palestinians should not have any say in how Israel conducts its own citizens' affairs.
"The emerging deal, if it includes the release of murderers with Israeli citizenship, damages Israeli sovereignty," he said.
Habayit Hayehudi MKs convened Friday to further discuss Bennett's threat, later issuing a statement saying, "After a long debate, which gave the political deterioration of the past few days careful thought, Habayit Hayehudi has decided to adopt the statement made by party Chairman Naftali Bennett. The time has come for the State of Israel to restore its resilience."
Senior Likud sources dismissed Bennett's threat, saying that he was the one who, when offered several alternatives prior to the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks last July, opted for a prisoner release. The sources said it was unclear why Bennett sought to dig in his heels over an issue he had already agreed to.
Habayit Hayehudi sources said that Bennett's threat was meant to echo a statement Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman had made during his visit to New York last week, saying that his party would prefer early elections to releasing Israeli Arab prisoners.
Yisrael Beytenu sources stressed over the weekend that despite his statement, Lieberman would not support any move that may topple the government, and that Lieberman had fully coordinated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the matter.
Yesh Atid and Hatnuah, perhaps as a countermeasure to Bennett, threatened over the weekend to quit the coalition if the government fails to advance the peace talks.
In an interview with Channel 2 Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnuah) said, "The prime minister has to choose between a radical right-wing government and a government that seeks to promote the peace process. There are alternatives to a government without Bennett and there could be a majority in the government without Habayit Hayehudi, but there is no majority for a government that doesn’t promote the peace talks. In the absence of a peace process there is no future for the government. It would be the end of the coalition."
Hatnuah "will not be part of a radical right-wing government operating in the spirit of Yitzhar," Peretz said, referring the recent violent clashes between Yitzhar settlers and security forces. He further criticized Yesh Atid, calling it "the national hypocrisy party, which is doing everything within its power to keep Pollard in jail and torpedo any chance for peace."
Despite Peretz's statement, and while Yesh Atid faction Chairman MK Ofer Shelah said Friday that his party would resign from the government if the peace process deadlocks, political sources said that Hatnuah Chairwoman Tzipi Livni and Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid do not appear as eager to exit the government as their fellow MKs, as both had issued statements last week blaming the Palestinian Authority -- not Israel -- for the recent crisis in the peace negotiations.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On commented on the tensions in the coalition on Friday, saying, "Over the past few weeks it has become clear that the peace talks were essentially dead and are now waiting to be taken off the life support systems known as [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry, who has blamed Israel for the talks' collapse.
"I don't think there is anyone who ever believed that the members of Netanyahu's coalition have any interest in reaching a deal, but over the past week the masks have been taken off. Naftali Bennett and Uri Ariel are openly trying to crush the peace process by issuing construction tenders for settlements and all the Likud does is back them up," she said.
Meanwhile, Palestinian sources denied reports that the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams have been able to bridge the gaps between the parties. A Palestinian source told Israel Hayom, "The meetings between the negotiators have diminished some differences, but there are still many issues of on which there are disagreement, since Israel refuses to discuss the issue of the Palestinian state's borders, or freeze settlement construction."
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