US official says letter detailing freeze deal being drafted

"It was always envisioned that there would be a letter...we are nailing down the specifics," senior US official says; “Jerusalem is outside of the discussion on this issue,” Netanyahu’s office states.

building311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(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 Office said.
“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.
The document, government sources said, would likely state that this 90-day freeze would be the last.
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 document.
“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 officials added.
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.
On Wednesday, 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.
The 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 talks.
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 Jerusalem.
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, 2010.
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 officials said.
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 several years.