White House denies Obama sent freeze letter to Netanyahu

Spokesman contradicts reports that in return for a two-month extension of building freeze the US guaranteed future weapons deliveries and an IDF presence in Jordan Valley, among other promises.

September 30, 2010 20:39
US President Barack Obama

Obama harsh features. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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The White House and a State Department official denied Thursday reports that US President Barack Obama sent Israel a draft letter in which he offered security guarantees — including a continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley after the creation of a Palestinian state — if Israel in exchange re-instituted the moratorium on new settlement construction for a 60-day period.

The Palestinians have threatened to walk away from the direct negotiations which began in early September if Israel does not reinstate the moratorium on new settlement construction which expired Sunday, 10-months after it was imposed.

Netanyahu: I am committed to peace with Palestinians
Abbas: If peace talks fail, Israel will be to blame
Arab League chief: No peace talks if Israel starts building

As of Thursday night, intense coordinated diplomatic efforts by the US and Europe have yet to break the impasse between the Israel and the Palestinians over the issue of settlement construction which threatens to put a halt to the fledgling negotiations between both parties.

US Special envoy George Mitchell, who arrived in Israel Tuesday, plans to hold a second round of meetings Friday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas in hopes of bridging the deadlock.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, who arrived in Israel Thursday for a two-day visit,  directly after meeting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, also plans to meet with both Netanyahu and Abbas.

The Arab League foreign ministers, who were expected to meet in Cairo on October 4 to decide whether Abbas should continue with the negotiations, opted to delay the meeting for an additional two days to give the US Administration a chance to persuade the Israeli government to extend the settlement freeze.

The State Department official refused to comment to The Jerusalem Post on the possibility that pledges of security and diplomatic incentives had been made to Israel in the course of the negotiations but had not yet been forward to Israel in writing, because no conclusive agreement had been reached on the matter.

The Prime Minister's office had no comment on the issue of the letter whose contents were first reported Thursday by David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"At its core, the draft letter offers a string of assurances to Israel in return for a two-month moratorium extension. More specifically, U.S. officials indicate that the document makes commitments on issues ranging from current peace and security matters to future weapons deliveries in the event that peace-related security arrangements are reached," Makovsky wrote.

According to Makovsky the US would not seek a second extension of the moratorium past 60 day. It promised that the US would veto any UN Security Council initiative which related to the    peace process during the one-year time table for negotiations. In the letter the US, according to Makovsky, promised to accept the legitimacy of Israel's security needs, including a ban on weapons smuggling and "the infiltration of terrorists" into Israel. It also discussed the need to "enhance Israel's defense capabilities" by increasing military assistance.

Finally the US, according to Makovsky, promised to "engage Israel and Arab states in discussions of a "regional security architecture" with an eye toward Iran.

Israeli politicians who believe Netanyahu has rejected Obama's offer, reacted on Thursday night to the report. 

Kadima's deputy faction chairman Yohanan Plesner slammed Netanyahu for apparently turning down the president.

"Netanyahu prefers to continue strengthening his government of national paralysis with the extreme Right than accept unprecedented American commitments at the expense of the citizens of Israel and their security," Plesner said.

Kadima MK Yoel Hason accused Netanyahu of "acting like a political hack" and not a leader and of "missing an important opportunity due to his narrow political interests."

But Likud hawk Danny Danon praised Netanyahu for standing up to the president of the United States. He advised Netanyahu to wait for an American president that would not pressure Israel to take steps that the overwhelming majority of Israelis oppose.

"We don't work for president Obama," Danon said. "It is clear that all his promises for the final status agreement are baseless because by the time there will be a final-status agreement, Obama will have already been voted out of office."

The Palestinian Authority on Thursday renewed its call for extending the moratorium on settlement construction and expressed hope that the US Administration would succeed in putting enough pressure on Israel in this regard.

On Thursday Mitchell meet with Abbas in Ramallah for two hours in a meeting which  Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat described as "thorough."

"The Israeli government holds the keys to the continuation of the peace talks," Erekat said. "We have repeatedly asked the Israeli government to halt settlement construction, including natural growth, so as to give the peace process the chance it deserves."

Erekat said that the Palestinians seek peace and appreciate the efforts the US is making in this regard. "We hope that the US Administration and the international community would succeed in obliging Israel to fulfill its commitments, especially with regards to stopping construction in the settlements," he added.

Mitchell said after the two-hour meeting with Abbas that Washington was determined to pursue its efforts to achieve peace in the region. "We will continue our efforts to find common ground between the parties to enable the direct negotiations to continue in a manner that we hope will lead to an agreement," he declared.

"President Obama's vision of comprehensive peace in the Middle East remains our primary goal in the region. That means Israel and the Palestinians reaching agreement on the two-state solution with security and prosperity for both people."

Speaking to the media before his meeting with Mitchell on Wednesday, Netanyahu that intended to pursue a peace deal with the Palestinians.

"There are many skeptics and many doubts — there are many obstacles on the road to peace. There is only one way to prove them right. That is not to try. We are committed and I committed to trying to get to a peace agreement that will secure Israel's security and other vital national interests. That is my goal and that is our policy."

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