Israeli finance minister threatens to quit government

Last Updated: Sun, Jun 08, 2014 23:50 hrs

Jerusalem, June 9 (IANS) Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late Sunday for his handling of diplomatic affairs, and threatened to quit the government if it decides to annex West Bank territories, the media reported.

Lapid, member of the centre-oriented Yesh Atid Party, criticised the recently published plans to build 3,300 new housing units in the West Bank and east Jerusalem settlements in a speech delivered at the annual Herzliya Conference near Tel Aviv, a key platform on which national policies are discussed by officials and experts, Xinhua quoted the Ha'aretz Daily as saying in a report.

"We are in an unprecedented crisis with the US," said Lapid, adding that "the crisis is a result of problematic and at times contemptuous handling of affairs on our side."

Lapid also slammed plans proposed by members of Netanyahu's far- right coalition members to annex West Bank settlement blocs.

Israel occupied the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem during the 1967 Mideast War.

"Extreme right-wing forces are pushing us toward the delusional idea of annexation, which will lead us to the disaster called a binational state," the minister said.

"We will not allow this to happen. If there is an attempt to annex even one settlement unilaterally, Yesh Atid will not only quit the government, it will bring it down," he added.

He also presented his version of a draft peace plan, according to which Israel would withdraw from areas without settlements in the West Bank as the first stage, while allowing the Israeli military to gain access to places in the West Bank if there are security reasons.

Israel would then freeze construction outside the major settlement blocs, and then evacuate the isolated settlements.

He said these plans should take place in parallel so as to reopen the stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestine.

Yesh Atid, which was the surprise of the 2013 national elections, won 18 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, the country's legislature, making it the second largest party in the parliament.

Once the party quits the government, Netanyahu may have to call for early elections.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has reached a surprise reconciliation with Hamas Islamists in late April, and a unity government was quickly formed last week.

The turn of events has prompted Netanyahu to call off peacemaking. He urged the world not to recognize the new government. However, the US said it intended to work with the "technocratic" government but would monitor its policies closely.

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