Israel, US working to avoid clashes over freeze plan

Representatives in Washington conducting serious talks over wording of agreement; diplomatic sources blame Palestinians for lack of letter.

Netanyahu at cabinet meeting 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Netanyahu at cabinet meeting 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Israel and the US administration were conducting serious talks Tuesday to try and avoid further clashes over disagreements regarding a potential settlement freeze.
The discussions surround a written US pledge that guarantees to persuade Israel to agree to a three-month moratorium on settlement construction.
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Israeli representatives were holding serious negotiations with US officials over the text of the letter so that a final version could be presented to the inner cabinet on Wednesday.
Earlier on Tuesday Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that Israeli approval of the 90-day settlement freeze was contingent on a written US pledge regarding a package of incentives that would insure Israel’s security and national interests, diplomatic sources told The Jerusalem Post.
Freeze opponent Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud) told the Post that the US would never put in writing the verbal pledges it made to Netanyahu when he met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York last week.
Such a document “is not on the way, and it is not coming. It is an illusion,” Edelstein said.
Diplomatic sources, however, blamed the Palestinians for the US failure to give Israel a written agreement, claiming that the Palestinians had said a 90- day settlement freeze was not sufficient enough to sway them to conduct direct negotiations with Israel.
Netanyahu has insisted that only when he gets such a document will he bring the freeze to the 15-member security cabinet for approval.
The security cabinet is set to hold its weekly meeting on Wednesday, but at present, the 90-day freeze is not on the agenda.
Based on the agreement between Netanyahu and Clinton, Israel would extend its moratorium on new West Bank settlement construction – but not building in east Jerusalem – for 90 days, with the understanding that the US would not seek to have it renewed further.
During that time, the two sides would begin substantive discussions on the borders of a Palestinian state.
In return, the US would give Israel 20 F-35 joint strike fighter jets, worth $3 billion, as well as a guarantee that for one year, the US would veto Palestinian attempts to seek unilateral statehood from the UN Security Council and that it would block such a measure and other anti-Israeli resolutions in relevant UN bodies.
Middle East expert David Makovsky said the US expected intense discussions on security and borders to go on concurrently during this 90-day period, after talks are renewed.
“I don’t think anyone expects these issues will be resolved in 90 days, but there’s an assumption that by delving into the nitty-gritty of negotiations, progress will be made,” he said. “It’s safe to assume that the US would not have offered all these things without some assurance that there would be progress on security and territory.”
US State Department spokesman P.J.
Crowley would not confirm any specifics of the US proposal or whether the US was willing to put the proposal in writing.
Crowley merely said, “We’re prepared to do everything that we can to create the positions for both Israelis and Palestinians to have confidence to return to direct negotiations.”

He also declined to address the Israeli assertion that the Palestinians were refusing to return to the negotiating table even with the 90-day extension.
In Ramallah, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians had not yet reacted to the package because it had not been officially presented.
“We don’t know the package. I cannot comment on something I haven’t received yet,” Erekat said.
US diplomat David Hale is in the region this week and expected to meet with Palestinians on Thursday, and likely with Israeli officials as well.
Former Israeli ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval told the Post that security cabinet approval of the freeze was dependent on a quick American delivery of the required document.
At present, Netanyahu has only a narrow margin of support in the security cabinet.
“Every day that the Americans procrastinate decreases the chances that Netanyahu can pass the freeze package,” Shoval said. “It raises doubts among people who are doubtful.”
Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin, who also opposes the measure, told the Post that even if the US put its guarantees in writing, it could not keep two of the pledges: that this would be the last freeze request and that it would not include east Jerusalem construction.
The US cannot resolve all the issues within 90 days, especially that of the borders, said Begin.
At the end of 90 days, the Palestinians will pull out of the talks if settlement construction resumes, and then there will be another crisis, he said.
Both Begin and Edelstein said the US would be reluctant to issue a written statement that appeared to support east Jerusalem construction. staff contributed to this report.