September 19, 2014
Netanyahu Palestine strategy rapped by Israeli coalition partners
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's handling of the now-moribund Palestinian peace negotiations drew criticism from both sides of his own coalition today, and one partner said relations with the United States had plunged to an all-time low.
The censure, aired at a showcase policy conference attended by foreign dignitaries as well as the country's senior politicians, exposed deep rifts in the government but there appeared to be little sign of any imminent collapse.
The next Israeli election is scheduled for 2017 and opinion polls have found no serious potential challenger to the third-term, conservative premier.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, whose centrist Yesh Atid party is the second-biggest coalition member, said Israel had been too opaque about the extent to which it might cede the occupied West Bank to a future Palestinian state in the US-sponsored talks.
The administration of President Barack Obama has blamed the diplomatic impasse on both its Israeli ally and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose surprise reconciliation with rival Hamas Islamists in late April prompted Netanyahu to call off peacemaking.
Washington has since further jarred Israel by offering to work with the new Palestinian unity government soon after it was sworn in last week. Netanyahu is shunning Abbas, demanding he first spurn Hamas.
Addressing the annual Herzliya Conference near Tel Aviv, Lapid said there was an "unprecedented crisis" in Israeli-US relations "brought about by problematic and sometimes disrespectful conduct on our part".
He faulted government funding for Jewish settlements in far-flung parts of the West Bank which he saw going to the Palestinians in the future.
Taking the stage next, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, whose ultranationalist Jewish Home party is the third-biggest in the coalition and opposes Palestinian statehood, accused the government of sapping Israel's security by "constantly freeing terrorists" from jail in past goodwill gestures to Abbas.