Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met yesterday with eight Knesset members from his Likud party hoping to convince them to support renewing the moratorium on settlement construction. But he said he would not bring the proposal to a vote unless the United States provides a written summary of the incentive package it has proposed in exchange for a 90-day construction freeze.
"I am sure that the ministers will approve it because it is what is good for the State of Israel," Netanyahu said. "I am committed to reaching the decision that best serves the State of Israel and its national interests, primarily security."
However, he said the United States had not provided a written summary of the understandings, and Likud MKs who participated in the meeting said Netanyahu sounded pessimistic about the chances of receiving a written document that would formalize the understandings.
"One could understand from him that he was hesitant, and not at all sure that the freeze would be implemented," one of the participants said. "It was clear in the course of the meeting that Netanyahu was having difficulty getting from the Americans the document of understandings that he's working on."
Meanwhile, a rally protesting the renewal of the moratorium drew some 5,000 people to the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem yesterday. The previous 10-month settlement construction ban expired in September.
Netanyahu denied reports that the understandings with Washington included reaching an immediate conclusion on where Israel's borders will be.
"There is absolutely no agreement that within 90 days we will reach an agreement on the issue of borders," Netanyahu said. "No request of the sort has been made and neither has any commitment."
"We will not hold separate conversations regarding the borders but will rather discuss all the significant issues," he said.
If the moratorium is not renewed - and implemented in East Jerusalem as well as the West Bank - the Palestinians will not return to the negotiating table, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday.
"We won't accept it if the freeze doesn't include Jerusalem," Abbas said while in Cairo for a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. "If Israel wants to continue building in the settlements, then we can't continue. A freeze must include all Palestinian territory, above all Jerusalem."
Abbas also said he wants no part in an Israel-U.S. deal that will grant Israel military assistance. Incentives offered by Washington include the sale of 20 new fighter jets to Israel.
"If the issue is weaponry... we don't accept it. So far we have not received an official proposal from the Americans."
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, who also met with Abbas, said that after they receive the U.S. proposal, the Arab League's monitoring committee will meet to decide whether it supports the Palestinians' return to the negotiating table.
On Wednesday, the Fatah leadership will meet to decide what steps the Palestinians will take if talks with Israel fall through. A Palestine Liberation Organization official indicated yesterday that the PA is likely to seek statehood through the United Nations if it doesn't accept the U.S. proposal to Israel on the freeze.
Landau: No Auschwitz lines
A rally protesting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to renew the moratorium on settlement construction drew some 5,000 people to the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem yesterday.
The sex-segregated rally was organized largely by regional councils, and most of the participants seemed to be under 30.
"We said that we won't get out of the Golan or the Jordan Valley, we said that we won't return to the 1967 lines, which are the Auschwitz lines, and that we won't divide Jerusalem or evacuate the settlements," said National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau of Yisrael Beiteinu. "But every year we see that the governments are willing to make concessions."
In using the term "Auschwitz lines," Landau was alluding to former Foreign Minister Abba Eban's comment that the June 1967 lines pose such a danger to Israel as to recall Auschwitz.
Danny Dayan, who heads the Yesha Council of settlements, said the protesters wouldn't leave until Netanyahu decided to allow construction to continue.
"If Netanyahu doesn't go back to being the Netanyahu we know - the prime minister of the nationalist camp... we won't move from here and won't leave the government complex," said Dayan.
Others expressed their opposition to the freeze by marching on Route 60 in the West Bank. Several dozen attempted to block the main entrance to Jerusalem but did not resist police efforts to move them away.
Right-wing sources said protesters will continue to block roads if the government declares an end to settlement construction.
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