Economics Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu one-on-one multiple times this week and laid out “red lines” for a framework agreement with the Palestinians which, if breached, may prompt him to pull his party from the government, Channel 2 reported on Friday.
According to the report, the Jewish Home party leader also held “intensive” meetings with ministers and MKs from Netanyahu’s Likud to test the possibility of their joining his secession in objection to the terms of a deal with the Palestinians.
News of a possible rift in the center-right coalition surfaced amid US Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest visit to the region to bring about a framework agreement between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Kerry met with Netanyahu on Thursday and Friday, and met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday as well.
Kerry is asking both leaders to start making tough, highly political decisions in hopes of narrowing differences and thus to agree on a framework that will outline a final peace pact.
The goal is for the framework deal, or series of guidelines, to address all core issues, including borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state, Palestinian refugees and conflicting claims to the holy city of Jerusalem. No agreement on a framework is likely during Kerry’s visit.
According to senior government officials cited by Channel 10 Friday, Netanyahu intends to put the framework agreement to a cabinet vote, a move which may find stiff opposition in the government.
“The decision to put it before the cabinet is expected to cause a grave rift in the coalition government, and even within the Likud party,” Channel 10 reported.
Channel 2 correspondent Dana Weiss said that the reported meetings between Bennett and Netanyahu appeared to be indicative that members of the right wing government “understood that [the negotiations] are on the verge of something serious.”
While the Channel 2 report didn’t mention any names of Likud members who spoke to Bennett, it showed clips of hardline right-wing MK Moshe Feiglin, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. It was not clear whether those individuals were connected to the story.
The report also did not indicate what aspects of a framework deal with the Palestinians Bennett would find so intolerable as to prompt him to pull his 12-member Jewish Home party from Netanyahu’s coalition. Such a move has the potential to jeopardize the stability of Netanyahu’s government.
Channel 2 added that Bennett felt slighted because ministers who support a negotiated agreement — Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, for example — have received more “VIP treatment” from American officials than he has.
Similarly stiff opposition to a prospective framework agreement was voiced Friday by a close aide to Abbas, Yasser Abed Rabbo. Rabbo, the secretary general of the PLO, called the plan “biased towards Israel” and said it restricted Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank.
“The Palestinian side will not even look at a worthless piece of paper, a framework agreement, which contains general principles for later negotiations, when the two sides have already been negotiating for months and years,” Rabbo told the Palestinian al-Ayyam newspaper on Friday.
As of yet, no confirmed concrete details of the framework agreement proposed by the US have come to light.
AP contributed to this report.