(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Obama administration is drafting written diplomatic and security assurances to Israel to persuade Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government to renew a freeze on West Bank settlement activity, a senior US official said Wednesday.
"It was always envisioned that there would be a letter detailing our
understandings," the official said. "We are nailing down the specifics."
Security cabinet members skeptical over new freeze
'PA opposition delaying written US freeze proposal'
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was hopeful on Wednesday night that
negotiations with the US over a written incentives package in exchange for a
90-day settlement freeze will soon be completed.
The US document would
reflect the understandings reached between Netanyahu and US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton at their meeting last Thursday in New York, the Prime Minister’s
“If the American document is designed according to these
principles, it will be an excellent agreement for the State of Israel,” the
Prime Minister’s Office said.
Opponents of a renewed freeze have
speculated that when the document arrives, the wording will be so vague as to
allow the US to renege on any of its commitments.
government sources said, would likely state that this 90-day freeze would be the
Earlier in the day, government officials clarified that Israel’s
ability to continue Jewish construction in east Jerusalem during that 90-day
period would be understood, but not spelled out in the
“Jerusalem is outside of the discussion on this issue,”
Netanyahu’s office said.
Already during the Netanyahu-Clinton meeting
last week, this was understood.
Israel had consistently said that it
would continue to build in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, Israeli
The Shas party’s expected abstention from the security
cabinet vote on the proposal – a stance that is critical to its passage – is
linked to its understanding that the document would clarify that east Jerusalem
construction is not included in the settlement freeze.
Netanyahu and attorney Yitzhak Molcho spoke with the two Shas ministers in the
security cabinet, in an attempt to shore up their support for the freeze. Molcho
was also at last Thursday’s meeting with the Americans and has been among the
Israeli negotiators with the US.
Israel has continually explained to
Washington that east Jerusalem is part of Israel’s united capital and that it
does not intend to halt construction there, Israeli officials said.
Palestinians have insisted that all Jewish construction must be halted both in
West Bank settlements and in east Jerusalem before they would agree to return to
the negotiating table.
The US is looking to Israel to impose a 90-day
settlement freeze in hopes of convincing the Palestinians to resume peace
Many in the international community do not distinguish between
West Bank settlements and east Jerusalem Jewish neighborhoods. US policy has
been more ambiguous, but it has still frowned on Jewish construction in east
Israeli officials said they expected the document detailing
the incentives package for the 90-day freeze to state clearly that it would be
an extension of the previous moratorium on new settlement construction, which
the government had imposed from November 26, 2009, to September 26,
That moratorium did not include east Jerusalem, and east Jerusalem
would not be included in the proposed 90- day extension of that freeze, the
Israeli officials said.
The nuance of this portion of the agreement is
important, the officials said. Netanyahu is therefore waiting to see the
language in the US document detailing the incentives package, before he brings
it to the security cabinet for approval, the officials said.
It is also
expected that the US-penned document would clearly state that Israel was not
expected to impose another freeze of settlement construction, the Israeli
Late on Wednesday night, a number of media outlets
speculated that the US document had arrived and would be brought to the security
cabinet possibly as early as Thursday.
On Wednesday, when quizzed on the
matter by reporters in Washington, Clinton said, “I can’t get into details. I
can only repeat what I have said, that we are in close touch with both the
Israelis and the Palestinians. We’re working intensively to create the
conditions for the resumption of negotiations that can lead to a two-state
solution and a comprehensive peace, because we continue to believe strongly that
it is only through negotiations between the parties themselves that all
final-status issues can be resolved and the conflict ended, because the current
status quo is unacceptable.”
In addition to setting the terms of the
90-day freeze, the document is also expected to confirm that for one year, the
US would oppose Palestinian efforts toward unilateral statehood at the United
Nations. The US is also expected to confirm its promise to give Israel 20
advanced F-35 fighter jets worth $3 billion, when they become available in