Israel delays vote on settlement freeze
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel signaled Tuesday it had delayed approving U.S. proposals for a freeze on West Bank settlement building so that peace talks can resume, saying it wanted the ideas in writing.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been expected to put Washington's proposals to a cabinet vote this week, but the plan was delayed after pro-settler coalition partners protested a proposed 90-day construction freeze.
The Israeli security cabinet convenes a weekly meeting on Wednesday, and so far, the settlement freeze was not on the agenda for the coming session, Israeli political sources said.
Israeli officials also said Netanyahu now wanted "written guarantees" from Washington before a vote could be held on the package. Israeli sources said the proposals included an offer of 20 F-35 stealth warplanes worth $3 billion for Israel, and pledges of enhanced U.S. diplomatic support at the United Nations.
Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said on Army Radio that Netanyahu wanted a letter reflecting these agreements, reached verbally with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York last week.
"I hope it will not take too long, but there will be no point if it is not in writing," Meridor said, adding that the outcome "depends on only one thing, that we get from the Americans the letter that we agreed that we would get."
Israel had published Saturday what it called a five-point plan of understandings reached with Clinton but they have not been confirmed by Washington.
An Israeli political source accused the Palestinians of delaying a U.S. written commitment, by objecting to a proposed exemption of East Jerusalem from a settlement freeze, and being denied the option of an imposed peace settlement via the United Nations.
The Israeli source said the Palestinians also objected to Washington guaranteeing Israel would not have to negotiate the borders of a future Palestinian state separately from other key issues of dispute.
Palestinian officials have thus far declined official comment on the proposals. Presidential aide Nabil Abu Rdainah said they had yet to receive details of the final proposal and had made no formal remarks to the Americans about it.
U.S. President Barack Obama invested substantial political capital in persuading the Palestinians to resume direct talks with Israel in early September, after months of mediation.
Negotiations ground to a halt when Netanyahu refused to extend the 10-month partial construction moratorium on Jewish settlements in the West Bank after it expired at the end of that month.
The inducements offered to Netanyahu were seen partly based on a hope Netanyahu would also tell Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas what size and shape of state he can agree to.
The Palestinians suspect they may be presented with plans for a shrunken, fragmented territory studded with Israeli settlements and without East Jerusalem as its capital.
Netanyahu also faces stiff opposition to the U.S. plan from within his own right-wing Likud party, where many oppose any halt to settlement building.
"I think we are facing a real disagreement," said Benny Begin, a respected right-wing minister and son of the late Menachem Begin who made peace with Egypt in 1979.
Zeev Elkin, a prominent lawmaker with Netanyahu's Likud party, said members would "do everything we can to prevent a decision on a freeze."