Netanyahu pushes freeze package

U.S. tries for a settlement deal

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JERUSALEM | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressed his Cabinet on Sunday to accept a package of security and diplomatic incentives the U.S. has proposed to entice Israel to renew limits on settlement construction and revive moribund peace talks with the Palestinians, an official said.

The proposed 90-day moratorium could give both sides time to work out an agreement on the future borders of Israel and a Palestinian state, making it clear where Israel can continue to build and where it cannot.

The proposal was worked out during a marathon meeting last week in New York between Mr. Netanyahu and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mr. Netanyahu told his Cabinet that details were still being finalized by Israeli and U.S. teams and that when the proposal is complete, he would bring it before an inner Cabinet of decision makers.

“Every proposal will consider the security needs of the state of Israel, both immediate needs and threats in the coming decade,” he said.

While Mr. Netanyahu did not explicitly come out in support of the plan, one Cabinet minister from Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party, Yuli Edelstein, said it was clear the prime minister backs it.

“He was definitely supportive and spoke about the positive side of this offer,” said Mr. Edelstein, who attended the meeting. He noted the prime minister stressed the security gains that Israel would make from the deal.

Among the key components would be Israeli access to top-end warplanes and U.S. diplomatic protection at the United Nations.

A vote in Israel’s Security Cabinet, a smaller group of senior Cabinet ministers and security chiefs, is expected on Wednesday. Mr. Edelstein and other officials said the vote is expected to be close because many members of the hard-line coalition oppose any settlement freeze.

The Palestinians were unhappy because the proposed construction curbs would apply only to the West Bank, not East Jerusalem, their hoped-for capital. Still, they did not reject the proposal outright, saying they would consult among themselves and with Arab leaders.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Americans had not officially relayed details about the proposal to the Palestinians, but “they know we have a major problem in not including East Jerusalem.”

He said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would put the U.S. plan before Palestinian decision makers and call for an immediate session of Arab League officials before announcing an official decision.

However, both the Israelis and the Palestinians would be hard pressed to turn down President Obama as he seeks to realize a major foreign policy goal: resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with all that implies for easing tensions in the wider Mideast.

Peace talks ground to a halt in late September, just three weeks after they began at the White House, after Israel resisted U.S. and Palestinian pressure to extend a 10-month moratorium on new construction in the West Bank.

The Palestinians refused to return to the negotiating table if construction resumed on land they want for a future state and gave the U.S. until later this month to come up with a formula to salvage the talks.

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