Most Likud Ministers against Freeze

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JERUSALEM, Israel - The battle continues over whether to approve the U.S.-initiated settlement freeze intended to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Three more Likud ministers signed a letter from the Judea and Samaria Regional Council opposing the construction freeze, bringing the total Likud signatories to 14.

The three newest signatories are Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom, and Minister-without-Portfolio Benny Begin.

Ya'alon has been one of the most vocal ministers to oppose the Obama administration's plan.

Speaking for a second time this week on Israel Radio, Ya'alon said that accepting the proposal would weaken Israel's position vis-à-vis the negotiations.

"If there are no red lines, we will enter negotiations from a weakened position," he said.

Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely said the letter "is aimed at sending a clear message to the prime minister that the Likud faction is against extending the freeze and urges him to preserved the principles he himself suggested."

"We, Likud ministers and MKs [members of Knesset], express our opposition to a building moratorium in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank].

"The decision made by the ministers of the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet from November 26, 2009, that 'with the end of the [10-month construction] suspension, the government will return to carrying out the policies of previous administrations on the topic of building in Judea and Samaria' must be carried out," the letter stated.

Only three of the remaining Likud members expressed support for the 90-day extension proposed by the Obama administration. One of the three, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, said he would withhold his final decision until he sees the U.S. proposal in writing.

Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman, a member of the left-wing Labor party, told Israel Radio that rejecting the Obama administration's plan would endanger Israel's existence.

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