US peace proposal strains Israeli ruling coalition
A pending US framework proposal to propel stumbling Israeli-Palestinian peace talks forward chipped away at a troubled alliance between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and an ultranationalist ally in his governing coalition.
Adding to the fray was a warning by centrist Finance Minister Yair Lapid that any failure of US-brokered peace talks could cause a "dramatic setback" in Israel's economy, citing boycott threats against Israel already heard in the West.
No date has been announced for US Secretary of State John Kerry to unveil his blueprint for an Israeli-Palestinian deal, but new skirmishing between Netanyahu and far-right partner Naftali Bennett suggested crunch time was near.
Bennett's Jewish Home party advocates annexation of some of the West Bank - occupied territory that Palestinians seek for a state - and it has threatened to end its partnership with Netanyahu if, he says, any handover of land of biblical significance to Jews were in the offing.
In a hard-hitting speech to an international security conference on Tuesday, Bennett aired veiled criticism of Netanyahu - sending a signal that he believed the Israeli leader was primed to accept Kerry's peace guidelines.
"Neither our forefathers nor our descendants will forgive the Israeli leader who gives away our land and divides our capital," said Bennett, an Orthodox Jew.
In a speech at the same Tel Aviv security forum, Netanyahu said Kerry would offer "American positions" and that "Israel does not have to agree to anything the Americans present".
Israeli officials, speaking anonymously, were livid over Bennett's accusations, and he seemed to try to defuse the crisis later by saying in a speech that "if the Prime Minister was insulted I definitely regret it".
Lapid, who heads the largest centrist party in Netanyahu's government, cautioned that scuttling the peace talks could also spell trouble for Israel's export-dependent economy.
He told a conference on security near Tel Aviv that European and North American countries were likely to blame Israel for any failure in Kerry's mission.
"If the negotiations with the Palestinians get stuck or explode and we wind up in the situation of a European boycott, even a very partial one, the Israeli economoy would regress, the pocket of every Israeli citizen will be hurt."