Netanyahu presents US plan for 'freeze' to Israeli cabinet
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last night presented the terms of a US proposal for renewing peace talks with the Palestinians to his cabinet, including a 90-day freeze on West Bank settlement-building.
The proposal "is still going through the formulation stage between our team and that of the Americans", Mr Netanyahu said in comments broadcast on Israel Army Radio.
The Israeli leader said that if and when the plan "passes this formulation stage" he would take it to the security cabinet for a vote.
Israel would get US backing in the United Nations as well as 20 advanced warplanes in return for renewing the building moratorium, according to diplomats familiar with the US proposal.
Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib said that the Palestinians hadn't received the plan from the US and that any freeze should last as long as peace talks were taking place.
US President Barack Obama praised Mr Netanyahu for taking what he described as "a very constructive step" in presenting the US plan to his cabinet.
"We've been in contact with both the Israelis and the Palestinians to make sure that we use this opportunity to start negotiating as quickly as possible on some of these final status issues that would render the settlement issue moot," he said.
Mr Obama also said that Mr Netanyahu's actions were "a signal that he's serious", adding that he hoped the Israeli prime minister and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would "start negotiations immediately".
The proposed moratorium doesn't cover building in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians seek as the capital of a future state.
The US would refrain from seeking any further halt to settlement construction after the 90 days were up, close sources said.
"We have a problem with excluding east Jerusalem, because east Jerusalem is occupied according to the position of all countries, not just us," Mr Khatib said.
Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas agreed in September to try to reach an agreement on the framework for a comprehensive peace accord within a year.
All core issues would be on the table, including the borders of a future Palestinian state, Israeli security, the status of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Palestinian leaders have said they would seek recognition of an independent state from the UN Security Council if talks did not resume and Israel did not stop construction in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem captured in the 1967 war.
The US plan for renewing talks assures Israel of a veto in the Security Council and other international bodies on any proposal that would try to impose a new Middle East peace agreement on Israel, delegitimise the Jewish state or negate its right to self-defence, the diplomats said.