Israeli official: Palestinians trying to foil settlement freeze deal
The Palestinian Authority is trying to thwart understandings between Washington and Jerusalem regarding a package of American incentives that would come in return for a new three-month settlement freeze by Israel, a senior Israeli official said Tuesday.
Five days after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered a series of guarantees to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in exchange for a 90-day freeze of West Bank construction, Israel and the U.S. have still not managed to consolidate a written draft of the proposal.
The Israeli official, who is privy to the details of the offer, said that the Palestinians have voiced their opposition regarding the deal to both the White House and the State Department.
"The Palestinians claim that the understandings reached between Secretary of State Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu benefit Israel too much and deny the Palestinians leverage and bargaining chips," the Israeli official said.
"The political benefits that Israel would receive as part of the package of understanding with the U.S. are not acceptable to the Palestinians because they ease some of the pressure on Israel and make it impossible for [the Palestinians] to apply their strategy of evading direct talks and of trying to force Israel into an arrangement through UN resolutions," added the official.
The plan proposed by the American administration calls for a 90-day extension of the moratorium on building West Bank settlements in return for a series of incentives including the sale of 20 new fighter jets to Israel and certain guarantees in United Nations discussions. The previous ten-month settlement construction ban expired in September.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was scheduled to meet with special U.S. envoy George Mitchell on Monday to be briefed on the U.S.-Israel understandings. He canceled at the last minute, however, claiming prior obligations pertaining to the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha. The meeting will apparently take place later Tuesday.
Officials in Jerusalem believe that the Palestinians are particularly disturbed by the following guarantees given by Clinton:
1. The understanding would prevent the Palestinians from demanding another extension of the West Bank construction freeze at the end of the 90-day period, and would take off the agenda completely any building moratorium in East Jerusalem.
2. The American promise to veto any anti-Israeli proposals in the United Nations for more than a year would foil the Palestinian plan to get either the Security Council or the General Assembly to recognize a unilateral declaration of statehood.
In addition, the Palestinians want the Obama administration to agree to set the borders of a future state as soon as the temporary West Bank freeze is over.
Netanyahu's majority in the cabinet coming into a vote on the proposed freeze will be a razor-thin one, officials estimated this week. Considering the wide opposition from within Netanyahu's own party and other right-wing lawmakers, approval will only be possible if Shas ministers agree either abstain or absent themselves from the vote.