Jonathan Lis
October 7, 2010 - 12:00am

Labor party ministers angered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's snap decision to back a controversial citizenship loyalty oath said late Wednesday that they expected a new freeze in settlement building as a payoff.

Netanyahu neglected to inform his Labor coalition partners that he had approved a right-wing minister's draft of a new oath that would require any non-Jew taking Israeli citizenship to swear allegiance to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state."

The move paves the way for a vote in the Knesset and was hailed as victory by ultra-nationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party, Netanyahu's major coalition partner.

But the prime minister must perform a balancing act. Allies at both ends of the political spectrum and the Labor party hope that his latest concession is a sop to right-wingers ahead of a decision to renew a ban on settlement building in the West Bank – a key demand of the left.

"I hope that Netanyahu's support is a payoff to Lieberman, so that the prime minister will be able to extend the freeze without breaking apart his coalition," said one Labor minister, who declined to be named.

U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which began a month ago, have faltered since Netanyahu's government refused to extend a 10-month settlement freeze that expired in late September.

"Netanyahu is under heavy pressure from the Americans," the minister said. "I presume that he intends to announce an extension of the freeze soon.

Two of Labor's four ministers issued public responses to the new loyalty oath proposal, expected to be approved by the government on Sunday.

"The decision is outrageous and irresponsible," said Minority Affairs Minister Avishai Braverman, calling on Labor leader Ehud Barak to convene an immediate debate in the party with the aim of blocking the move.

Welfare Minister Yitzhak Herzog also issued a statement condemning the proposal.


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