U.S. Seeks 90-Day Freeze on West-Bank Settlement Building to Revive Talks

A U.S. proposal aimed at the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks urges Israel to freeze West Bank construction for 90 days in return for American backing in the United Nations and 20 advanced warplanes, diplomats said today.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought the proposal, which was made during an eight-hour meeting Nov. 11 in New York with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to his inner Cabinet late yesterday.

The proposed moratorium doesn’t cover building in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians seek as the capital of a future state. The U.S. would commit to refrain from seeking any further building freeze after the 90 days were up, diplomats familiar with the offer said.

Philip J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, said in an e-mail that Clinton “had a productive meeting” with Netanyahu on Thursday. “We continue to encourage the parties to resume negotiations,” Crowley said. “We are not going to comment on any specific elements under discussion.”

Direct negotiations between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, initiated in a Sept. 1 White House ceremony, stalled less than a month later when a partial 10-month Israeli freeze on West Bank construction came to an end. Abbas has said he won’t resume talks unless Israel stops all settlement building.

90-Day Freeze

The new 90-day freeze proposed by the U.S., if approved by Israel, would include any new construction begun since the previous 10-month moratorium ended on Sept. 26, the diplomats said.

Netanyahu and Abbas agreed in September to try to reach an agreement on the framework for a comprehensive peace accord within a year. All the issues at the core of the conflict would be on the table, including the borders of a future Palestinian state, security arrangements for Israel and the right of Palestinian refugees to return.

Palestinian leaders have said they will seek recognition of an independent state from the United Nations Security Council if Israel doesn’t stop the construction in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem captured in the 1967 war and talks don’t resume.

Assured Veto

The American proposal assured Israel of a U.S. veto in the UN Security Council and other international bodies on any proposal that would try to impose a Middle East peace agreement on Israel, delegitimize the Jewish state or negate its right to self-defense, the diplomats said.

In addition, the Obama administration would ask Congress to approve supplying 20 advanced warplanes, worth about $3 billion, to Israel, the diplomats added, without saying when the jets would be delivered.

Netanyahu’s visit to the U.S. last week was marked by U.S. criticism of Israeli plans to build some 1,000 new homes in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed in a move never internationally recognized.

President Barack Obama on Nov. 9 called Israeli plans to build hundreds of new homes in east Jerusalem not “helpful when it comes to peace negotiations.” Netanyahu said Israel has the right to build everywhere in the city.

Complaints ‘Overblown’

Representative Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican who is in line to become majority leader when his party takes control of the U.S. House in January, met with Netanyahu on Nov. 10. He said Obama’s administration should “make absolutely clear” that the U.S. would veto any UN measure about establishing a Palestinian state.

In a Nov. 9 interview with Bloomberg Television, Netanyahu said Palestinian complaints about Israeli settlement construction were “a minor issue” that has become “way overblown.”

About 500,000 Jews have moved to the West Bank and east Jerusalem since Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Middle East war. The UN says the settlements are illegal, and the International Committee of the Red Cross says they breach the Fourth Geneva Convention governing actions on occupied territory.

Israel says the settlements don’t fall under the convention because the territory wasn’t recognized as belonging to any country before the 1967 war, in which Israel prevailed, and therefore isn’t occupied.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at gackerman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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