Week before freeze end, US tries to broker compromise

Netanyahu’s chief negotiator is expected to travel to the US on Monday for meetings with chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat.

netanyahu cabinet good 311 (photo credit: AP)
netanyahu cabinet good 311
(photo credit: AP)
With the end of the 10- month settlement moratorium only a week away, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are expected to meet in the coming days to try and arrange another meeting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas to broker a deal enabling the just-started direct talks to continue.
The moratorium is set to expire on Sunday night, September 26. While there has been some confusion over whether the freeze expires on September 26 – 10 months after the moratorium was approved by the cabinet – or four days later on September 30, when the order was signed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, senior government officials have said in recent days that the earlier date is when the moratorium ends.
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Netanyahu’s chief negotiator is expected to travel to the US on Monday for meetings with chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat.
In addition, Barak will hold a series of meetings that day in Washington and New York with top US officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, National Security Adviser James Jones and presidential adviser Dennis Ross.
Settlement leaders expressed concern on Sunday night that Barak might be working out a compromise to present to the ministers of Netanyahu’s inner cabinet, a body known as the “septet,” as a “done deal.”
President Shimon Peres is also in the US, for the opening of the UN General Assembly meeting and a conference hosted by former president Bill Clinton, and he is expected to meet with Abbas as well and discuss the moratorium.
Abbas has said he will bolt the talks if the moratorium is not extended.
Hillary Clinton, in an ABC interview taped last week in Jerusalem but aired on Sunday, reiterated that the US believes the moratorium should be extended. Asked whether the US is pressing Abbas to remain in the talks even if the freeze is lifted, Clinton said, “We don’t want either party to leave these negotiations or to do anything that causes the other to leave the negotiations.”
Netanyahu, meanwhile, continued to keep his plans regarding the day after the moratorium ends very close to his chest.
Speaking on Sunday at a meeting of Likud ministers, Netanyahu said he could not go into details of his talks with Abbas because of their sensitive nature, but that “there has been no change in our position” regarding the moratorium.
Netanyahu has said on a number of occasions that the government decision limiting the moratorium to 10 months will not be changed. He also has said in recent weeks that building in the settlements was not an all or nothing proposition, and that the end of the freeze did not mean the automatic beginning of the construction of tens of thousands of units.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in an Army Radio interview, acknowledged that Netanyahu was coming under “massive” US pressure to renew the moratorium. “But,” he said, the “job of leaders is to stand up to pressure. If we can’t withstand pressure on a relatively simple issue like continuing building in Judea and Samaria, how can we defend other interests.”
Asked whether this meant Israel should build “as if nothing has happened,” Lieberman said there were 2,000 housing units that didn’t need any additional permission or permits, and there was no reason building on these units could not begin immediately. He said he did not think this would lead to an “explosion” with the US.
Shas head Eli Yishai, who like Lieberman sits on the “septet,” also said on Sunday that the moratorium needed to be lifted.
Abbas met with prime minister Ehud Olmert every two weeks without a moratorium, Yishai said, adding that if Abbas wanted an excuse to stop the talks he could always find one.
The majority of the country wants the building to continue, and “surrendering to a dictate” on this matter would not lead to a successful diplomatic process, Yishai said.
Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman (Labor) disagreed, saying that this was a marginal issue in relation to others such as security and borders. Netanyahu needed to lead on this issue, and a decision to extend the moratorium would be welcomed both in the world and by most of the country, Braverman said. “If there needs to be changes in the coalition [as a result], there will be changes,” he said.