The White House denied on Thursday that U.S. President Barack Obama sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposing a set of U.S. guarantees to Israel in exchange for Israel extending a freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank for another two months.
"No letter was sent to the Prime Minister. We are not going to comment on sensitive diplomatic matters,” said Benjamin Chang, the deputy spokesman for the White House National Security Council.
It is not clear, however, whether Obama could have made the offer via means other than a letter.
Earlier on Thursday, Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said that U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell denied that Obama made such an offer to Netanyahu.
In an interview on Nazareth's A-Shams radio station, Shaath said that Mitchell made the denial during a meeting on Thursday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
Shaath added that the Palestinians would not return to the negotiating table unless Israel extends a freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank and that the Arab League would support that position at its meeting next week.
An article published on Wednesday on the website for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy by David Makovsky, a researcher with ties to Dennis Ross, Barack Obama's chief advisor on the Middle East, reported that Obama had written a letter Netanyahu in which Obama offered to support the presence of Israel Defense Forces soldiers in the Jordan Valley even after the establishment of a Palestinian state, if Israel would agree to a two month settlement building freeze.
Netanyahu was reportedly inclined to reject the offer.
Obama's letter was said to include a long list of American favors in exchange for an extension of the settlement building freeze, which ended this week. Most of these favors are critical to Israel's strategic security needs that Netanyahu has been demanding for years.
Other commitments that Obama reportedly offered Netanyahu in the letter include an agreement not to ask for any more building freeze extensions, an agreement to veto any anti-Israel UN Security Council resolution in the next year, and an agreement that the future fate of the settlements be dealt with only as part of a final status agreement with the Palestinians.
Obama's letter was said to include additional commitments, including a series of guarantees to prevent the smuggling of weapons and missiles into a Palestinian state, a lengthy period of interim security arrangements in the Jordan Valley and a comprehensive regional defense pact for protection from Iran to follow the establishment of the Palestinian state.
The American President also reportedly vowed to upgrade Israel's security capabilities and increase the three billion dollar security aid package that Israel receives annually. The letter included commitments to advanced weapons and early warning systems, including satellites.
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