Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) leveled criticism at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to partially freeze building in West Bank settlements.
Speaking at a conference in Tel Aviv Sunday evening, Shalom said, "I think it is incorrect to hold a discussion on a freeze only in order to meet with Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas). If we speak of a Palestinian state and a freeze now, what will we discuss during the actual negotiations (with the Palestinians)? This issue is too important to be political. For one meeting, one need not go so far.
"We should work towards shifting the debate so it will focus on a permanent agreement," said the minister.
Hundreds of people attended the conference, including Likud MKs Miri Regev, Tzipi Hotovely and Ayoob Kara. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin was also on hand.
Shalom also addressed the US' call for Arab gestures in exchange for a settlement freeze By Israel. "Saudi Arabia said no to the American request to allow Israeli commercial airplanes to fly over its territory. Did that lead to a confrontation between the US and the Saudis? The answer is no. Other Arab states said they were against the normalization of ties with Israel. Did that lead to a confrontation with the US? No."
The minister added, "Were we elected in order to implement the policies of others? I appreciate Netanyahu very much; we must make every effort to embolden him in the face of the American, Palestinian and European pressure."
Despite the criticism, Shalom called on Likud to remain united.
Likud MK Danny Danon told the conference, "We all support Netanyahu ahead of his visit to the US. At the same time, we say to him: We were elected to lead, to say no to a Palestinian state and no to a West Bank settlement freeze."