JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's prime minister says a package of U.S. incentives designed to entice Israel to freeze new West Bank settlement construction is not final and both sides are still working on details.
Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Sunday before presenting the broad outlines of the deal to his Cabinet. He says an inner Cabinet of ministers with security responsibilities would make a final decision on the plan.
Palestinians have reservations because the 90-day moratorium does not include east Jerusalem, their hoped-for capital.
They refused to continue peace talks after Israel resisted U.S. and Palestinian pressure to extend a 10-month moratorium on new construction in the West Bank that expired Sept. 26.
Peace talks broke down three weeks after they began.
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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's prime minister will ask his Cabinet Sunday to consider 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.
The chief Palestinian negotiator expressed strong reservations about the proposal because the 90-day moratorium on new construction would only apply to the West Bank and not east Jerusalem, the Palestinians' hoped-for capital. But Saeb Erekat did not reject it outright, saying the Palestinians would consult among themselves and with Arab leaders.
Peace talks ground to a halt, 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 that expired Sept. 26. 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.
The diplomatic climate soured even further last week after Israel pressed ahead with plans to build 1,300 apartments in east Jerusalem.
In a seven-hour meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the United States last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that in exchange for a new construction moratorium, the White House would ask Congress to supply Israel with 20 stealth fighter jets worth $3 billion, an Israeli official said.
The U.S. would also commit to fight international resolutions that would be critical of Israel or unilaterally advance the Palestinian quest for statehood, he said.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity pending the presentation of the deal to the Cabinet on Sunday.
Under the proposal, the U.S. has agreed not to seek a further extension of the building moratorium after it expires. The idea is that the 90-day period would give the two sides time to work out an agreement on borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state, thereby making it clear where Israel can continue to build and where it cannot.
Netanyahu can expect stiff opposition to the U.S. proposal from some members of his hawkish Cabinet who take a hard line against territorial concessions to the Palestinians.
It was unclear if any decisions would be taken at Sunday's meeting. Netanyahu, who has not publicly stated support for the proposal, presented it before an inner Cabinet of decision-makers on Saturday night.
Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator, said the Americans had not officially informed the Palestinians about the details of the proposal, but "they know we have a major problem in not including east Jerusalem."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will put the U.S. plan before Palestinian decision-makers and call for an immediate session of Arab League officials before announcing an official decision, Erekat said.
The Palestinians have said that if negotiations fail they will consider sidestepping Israel and seek U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state.
According to the Israeli diplomatic source, the building freeze would apply to all new construction that began in the West Bank after the moratorium expired on Sept. 26. Anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now reported Sunday that construction has begun on 1,649 apartments.
That number includes 1,126 apartments where foundations have been dug — the government's definition of a housing start. In all of 2009, there were 1,888 housing starts in the West Bank.
"It turns out that the settlement freeze was no more than a 10-month delay in construction, and the settlers managed to fill in the gap very fast," Peace Now said in a statement. It said it reached those figures from field trips to settlements and aerial tours.
Settler leader Dani Dayan denied that so much construction had taken place, saying Peace Now's numbers were "far from the truth." But he didn't offer different figures.
When the 10-month moratorium was originally announced, Netanyahu had said it wouldn't be extended. On Sunday, another settler leader, Naftali Bennett, predicted the U.S. pressure on Israel wouldn't stop, despite Washington's pledge not to seek additional renewals of the moratorium beyond the current proposal.
"We are in a trap. They (the Americans) are pressuring us all the time," Bennett said. "If we don't reach an agreement on borders within three months, will the U.S. stop pressuring us? Nonsense!"
The U.S. incentives package was presented after a contentious week in which the U.S. repeatedly criticized Israel for pressing ahead with new construction in east Jerusalem.
Netanyahu defiantly insisted that all of Jerusalem — including the eastern sector annexed in 1967 in a move not recognized by the international community — "is not a settlement. It is the capital of the state of Israel."
Daniel Estrin contributed to this report from Jerusalem.
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