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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Israel PM under pressure over peace talks

(Israel Twitter)Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, faced growing pressure on Sunday from the only centrist member of his predominantly rightwing coalition to revive peace talks with the Palestinians and mend Israel’s deepest rift with the US in years.

Isaac Herzog, the social affairs minister from the centrist Labor party, told an Israeli radio station that Labor’s parliamentary faction plans to hold a meeting next month to discuss the possibility of quitting Mr Netanyahu’s coalition.
Mr Herzog added: “In the case that there will not be a clear change of policy that would lead to a real peace process . . . the Labor party is reaching a moment of truth in which it will have to decide if there is any use in sitting in the government.”

Mr Herzog also reiterated calls made by two other ministers from Labor over the weekend urging Mr Netanyahu to add the opposition Kadima party, which promotes advancing peace talks on the creation of a Palestinian state, to his ­coalition.

The Israeli leader’s coalition troubles are emerging as tension rises with the administration of Barack Obama, the US president, which has criticised Israel over its construction activities in mostly-Arab East Jerusalem, an area that the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.

Planned US-mediated talks between Israel and the Palestinians were thrown into doubt this month after Israel said it intended to build 1,600 apartments for Jews in East Jerusalem.

Some Israeli analysts said that the chances that Labor will quit the mostly pro-settler government will rise if Mr Netanyahu fails to reach an agreement with the US, Israel’s most powerful ally, on the sensitive issue of East Jerusalem.

Yaron Ezrahi, a political scientist at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, said: “I don’t see Labor staying in the cabinet if Netanyahu persists in refusing to include Arab neighbourhoods in Jerusalem in the construction freeze.” Mr Ezrahi was referring to the 10-month partial building suspension announced by Israel in November.

Mr Ezrahi said that without Labor, Mr Netanyahu’s coalition, which will remain with a razor-thin majority of 61 members of Israel’s 120-seat parliament, would be “much weaker, much more vulnerable”.

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