US asks Israel for 90-day settlement building moratorium

PM discusses possibility of halting building with septet; in exchange, US would support Israel in the UN and give 20 fighter jets.

November 14, 2010 01:29
Settlers begin construction in West Bank

West Bank construction 311. (photo credit: Miri Tzachi)

The US asked Israel to freeze all new settlement construction begun after September 26th for a 90-day period in exchange for support in the United Nations and 20 additional advanced fighter planes worth $3 billion, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

The principles of this agreement designed to restart peace talks with the Palestinians, were relayed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to his inner cabinet, a forum of seven ministers, on Saturday night and will be explained to the full cabinet on Sunday.

The US said that if the deal was accepted it would not request an additional settlement freeze. The request does not include east Jerusalem.

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The date for the new freeze has not been set, but it would be retroactive to the September 26th date, when the previous 10-month moratorium on such activity expired.

The details of the deal were worked out Thursday during a seven-hour meeting in New York between Netanyahu, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of their staff.

Should Israel accept the offer, the US in turn has pledged in the next year to veto any efforts by the UN Security Council to impose on Israel a non-negotiated solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, as the Palestinians have requested.

It would further veto any resolutions that deny Israel the right to self-defense or seek to de-legitimize Israel. The US would also oppose such efforts in other UN bodies and forums.

The US administration would ask Congress to approve the supply of 20 additional advanced fighter planes to Israel worth $3 billion so that Israel can keep its qualitative edge.

This defense assistance will be added into Israel's security agreement with the US, so that Israel's safety can be assured. Talks about these defense understanding will begin in the coming weeks.

Netanyahu learned of the details of this deal during his trip to the US.

Settlers, who had been concerned that such a deal was brewing, attacked it within minutes after it was reported in the media.

"This is the test for the ministers," the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip said in a statement it issued to the media. "Are you building or surrendering?" it asked.

"The request to renew the freeze is a trap that Israel's must not fall into," said the council.

Israel's position was clearly and unequivocally stated, that the former freeze was a one-time temporary gesture, said the council. If this position collapses, than how can Israel hold on to any of its other principles? asked the council.

As the negotiations continue, Israel would be forced to waste its assets that should be reserved for the negotiations, just to keep the talks going, the council warned.

The Palestinians who have insisted that Israel must halt all settlement construction, including in east Jerusalem, said Saturday that they did not believe the deal was a sign of progress.

A PA official said that Daniel Rubinstein, the US consul-general in Jerusalem, had briefed PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Netanyahu’s talks in New York last week with Clinton and with US Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Israeli intransigence on the issue of settlement construction is responsible for the crisis in the peace process, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said on Saturday.

Abbas’s remarks came during a phone conversation with British Foreign Secretary William Hague and a meeting in Ramallah with Rubinstein.

Abbas told the two men that halting the construction was the only way the PA would resume the peace talks with Israel.

Despite the downbeat Palestinian assessment, US and Israeli officials were hopeful that the process could move forward.

Dan Shapiro, a senior US National Security Council adviser on the Middle East who participated in Thursday’s meetings, underscored America’s deep commitment to Israeli security and to combating efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state, speaking during a conference call with Jewish leaders on Friday morning in Washington.

One participant in the call described it as a “reassuring” conversation that seemed “intended to soothe in advance of a potential showdown,” which he speculated could come from an announcement of an agreement between the US and Israel.

The Palestinians have indicated their willingness to have the Americans try to work something out with Israel, but have also threatened to go to the UN with a unilateral declaration of statehood should talks fail.

Asked about that possibility on the call, Shapiro stressed that the US opposed unilateral moves by either side, but he declined to say the US would veto a Security Council resolution on the subject.

Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat announced over the weekend that the Palestinians may indeed ask the US to recognize a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines should Washington fail to get Israel to stop the construction within a month.

“If the US can’t oblige Israel to stop the settlements during this month, we will ask the US to recognize a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, including east Jerusalem,” Erekat said.

He pointed out that 107 countries have recognized the Palestinian state and that the Palestinians have official embassies in dozens of countries.

“Unfortunately, the US still hasn’t recognized us,” he said. “Also, there are 21 EU states that haven’t recognized us although we have representative offices there.”

Erekat said it was “unjust” to hold both Israel and the Palestinians responsible for the suspension of the peace talks.

“The Israeli government is responsible for the collapse of the negotiations because of its practices and construction in the settlements,” he said.

“Why aren’t they holding the Israeli government responsible, as they promised to do when they said that they would hold the party responsible for the collapse of the talks responsible?” he asked.

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was quoted as saying that the US guarantees offered to Israel in return for a three month freeze of settlement construction were no less dangerous than the construction itself.

Fayyad said that the US guarantees were dangerous for the Palestinian cause. He also warned against any attempt to prevent the Palestinians from asking the UN Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state should the peace process fail. In any case, there was no need to declare the establishment of a Palestinian state, because the Palestinians had already made such a declaration in Algeria in 1988, Fayyad said.

On Saturday, The New York Times wrote its second editorial calling on Netanyahu to bow to the Palestinians demand to halt settlement construction.

It chastised him for not making the “hard choices necessary for peace.”

The editorial, titled, “Politics Over Peace,” also contented that Netanyahu was counting on support from the Republicans in Congress, where the party recently gained a large number of seats in the Senate and the majority in the House of Representatives.

The editorial cites the publishing of plans to build new Jewish housing in east Jerusalem, and Netanyahu’s “faulting” Obama for not threatening Iran with the use of force as evidence that the prime minister sees the Republican gains in midterm elections as ensuring him of US support no matter what he does.

The editorial added, “What Mr. Netanyahu does not seem to realize is that a peace deal with the Palestinians is not a favor to President Obama. It is vital to Israel’s long-term security. If he squanders this moment, the only ones who can celebrate are the extremists.”

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