Netanyahu updates Cabinet on U.S. settlement freeze proposal

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will present to his Cabinet an American proposal to convince Israel to again freeze settlement construction in an effort to resume peace talks with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu updated the Cabinet on the American offer Sunday during its regular meeting. Netanyahu met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday in New York for seven hours.

“This proposal was raised during my talks with Secretary of State Clinton.  It is still not final; it is still being formulated by Israeli and the American teams.  If and when it is complete, I will bring this proposal to the appropriate Government forum, which in this case is the Cabinet.  In any case, I insist that any proposal meet the State of Israel’s security needs, both in the immediate term and vis-à-vis the threats that we will face in the coming decade,” Netanyahu told the Cabinet at the beginning of Sunday’s meeting.

The U.S. reportedly has offered to supply 20 F-35 stealth fighter jets in a deal worth $3 billion; to veto all United Nations Security Council and international resolutions that criticize or delegitimize Israel; and to provide Israel with additional security guarantees once a peace deal is reached. The U.S. deal requires Israel to halt all construction in the West Bank for 90 days, including on building work in process, and says that the U.S. will not ask for an extension of the new freeze.

A 10-month Israeli freeze on construction in the West Bank ended on Sept. 26. President Obama has said he believes that he can help Israel and the Palestinians to agree on final borders for Israel and a Palestinian state during a three-month settlement construction freeze.

At a meeting of Netanyahu’s Likud Party ministers before the Cabinet meeting, at least four ministers, including two vice premieres, reportedly expressed vehement opposition to a second West Bank construction freeze.

Palestinians leaders also reportedly are against the deal, because it does not include a freeze on construction in eastern Jerusalem. The United States reportedly has not consulted with the Palestinians on the deal it offered to Netanyahu.

“Jerusalem is not a settlement. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” said a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office last week.

Clinton, Syrian FM discuss Israel-Syria talks

Hillary Rodham Clinton met with the Syrian foreign minister and discussed reviving Israeli-Syrian peace talks.

The U.S. secretary of state met with Walid Muallem on the sidelines of the launching of this year’s U.N. General Assembly, the signature annual event that brings together foreign ministers otherwise not inclined to meet one on one.

“The secretary affirmed our objective of comprehensive peace in the Middle East, which includes the Syrian track,” the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, said in a conference call with reporters. “Foreign Minister Muallem was very interested in pursuing that, and there was a pledge that we would develop some ideas going forward on how to proceed.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is not interested in reviving talks with Syria where they left off under his predecessor, Ehud Olmert. Those talks, mediated by Turkey, operated under the assumption that Israel would return the entire Golan Heights, the strategic plateau captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, should a comprehensive peace be secured.

Netanyahu says he will only restart talks with no preconditions and has suggested that he is not willing to return the entire Golan.

Syria’s official news agency, Sana, described the Clinton-Muallem meeting as “very constructive.”

The Obama administration has kept in place most of the sanctions imposed on Syria by President George W. Bush, but is seeking to return a U.S. ambassador to Damascus. That nomination is held up in the Senate.

Crowley said Clinton and Muallem discussed the issues that led to the imposition of the sanctions, including alleged Syrian interference in Lebanon and Iraq, and Damascus’ backing for terrorist groups that target Israel.

“The peace process and Lebanon were the two most significant dimensions of the secretary’s discussion with the foreign minister,” he said. “And suffice it to say that we do have concerns about Syria’s activities inside Lebanon and its relationship with Hezbollah.”

Crowley said there would be follow-up, but would not provide details.

“We will follow up with the Syrians on how to best proceed in developing the Syrian-Israeli track,” he said.

Clinton while in New York also spoke by phone with Netanyahu to address difficulties already afflicting recently revived direct talks with the Palestinian Authority.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas has interrupted the talks because Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month moratorium on settlement building. Abbas also has said, however, that the issue will not end the talks.

Crowley said George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s senior envoy to the region, was set Monday evening to visit the region and meet with the leaders in an attempt to get past the impasse before Wednesday evening, the eve of Shemini Atzeret, a Jewish holiday.