Israel Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel has agreed to push his cabinet to freeze most construction on settlements in the West Bank for 90 days to break an impasse in peace negotiations with the Palestinians, an official briefed on talks between the United States and Israel said Motzoei Shabbos.In return, the Obama administration has offered Israel a package of security incentives and fighter jets worth $3 billion that would be contingent on the signing of a peace agreement, the official said. The United States would also block any moves in the United Nations Security Council that would try to shape a final peace agreement.
The quid pro quo was hashed out by Mr. Netanyahu and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in seven and a half hours of talks in New York on Thursday.
The partial freeze would not include East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians view as the future capital of a Palestinian state and where recent Israeli building set off a firestorm of criticism.
It was unclear whether the prime minister could win approval for the United States deal from his cabinet, which has been reluctant to freeze settlement construction. It was also unclear if the leaks of the details of the agreement, which were widely reported in Israeli newspapers on Saturday, were designed to put pressure on Mr. Netanyahu.
He convened an unusual meeting of the inner council of his cabinet in Jerusalem on Saturday night, and he will meet with the full cabinet on Sunday, according to an Israeli official.
If approved, the agreement could surmount a stubborn hurdle to talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which began with much fanfare in Washington in early September but soon ran aground after Israel’s 10-month partial moratorium on settlement construction expired later that month.
It would also give President Obama a foreign policy victory after the Democrats’ midterm election losses and a tough few days for him in Asia, in which he failed to win support on trade and international economic issues.
The stalled Middle East peace process had loomed as another setback. The Palestinians have refused to return to the bargaining table unless Israel extends the moratorium. And Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have failed to sway Mr. Netanyahu, despite repeated public and private entreaties.
Last week, Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu again traded barbed words after the Israeli authorities announced plans to build new Jewish housing in a contested part of East Jerusalem, while the prime minister was visiting the United States and Mr. Obama was traveling in Indonesia.
This proposed 90-day freeze would be nonrenewable: the United States would not ask for further extensions, the official with knowledge of the deliberations said.
The freeze would apply not only to new construction, but to building that began after the 10-month moratorium expired in September, the official said. That is a particularly delicate stipulation, given the large number of houses that have begun being built since then. The ban would apply to residential building; public structures like schools and community centers would be unaffected.
The logic behind a 90-day extension is that the two sides would aim for a swift agreement on the borders of a Palestinian state. That would make the long dispute over settlements irrelevant since it would be clear which housing blocks fell into Israel and which fell into a Palestinian state.
The security incentives offered by the administration, though generous, do not appear to go far beyond the support the United States typically offers Israel. For example, the United States has not agreed to endorse a long-term Israeli security presence in the Jordan River Valley, the official said.
The American pledge to block initiatives in the Security Council appears aimed at heading off efforts by the Palestinian Authority to seek international support for a unilateral declaration of statehood – something it has considered in recent weeks as Israel has refused to reconsider a new building moratorium.
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Jonathan Peled, declined to comment on the reports, as did Philip J. Crowley, the spokesman for the United States Department of State.