The United States is prepared to commit in writing to security guarantees for a new, 90-day construction freeze in West Bank settlements, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Friday.
"We are still having discussions with the Israelis to encourage them to return to direct negotiations and to create the conditions for a direct negotiation to resume," Crowley said. "If as part of this process we need to write certain things down, we will."
Crowley also said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's insistence on getting the pledges in writing was "not unusual in negotiations." He said that "if there are understandings that need to be codified in writing, we're fully prepared to do that."
While the issue of the United States supplying 20 F-35 fighter jets was solved over the weekend, officials familiar with the talks said the main difficulty was Shas' demand that the Americans pledge in writing that construction in East Jerusalem could continue.
The Americans have reportedly not agreed to give such a pledge.
Crowley responded to criticism of the guarantees by former senior officials, among them former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said he did not understand the connection between a construction freeze in the settlements and 20 F-35 planes.
"It's important to the future of Israel and a prospective Palestinian state," Crowley said. "How do you put a price tag on that?"
In an op-ed in the Washington Post yesterday, former U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer also criticized the guarantees. "Washington will almost certainly come to regret bribing Israel, Israel may regret receiving such a bribe even more," he wrote.
Meanwhile, Jewish Democrats are calling on the American Jewish community to help U.S. President Barack Obama get the START nuclear arms-reduction treaty with Russia ratified in the lame-duck session of Congress.
Obama wants to make clear that if the Republicans delay ratification of the treaty, Obama's "reset" of relations with Russia will be harmed since the Russians are waiting to see if Obama can obtain results at home before they ratify the treaty.
Marc Stanley, chairman of National Jewish Democratic Council, wrote in the Philadelphia Jewish Voice Thursday that the treaty could also help contain Iran.
"Despite the leadership of President Barack Obama and Senators John Kerry (D-MA ) and Richard Lugar (R-IN ), a small group of senators - led by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ ) - seem intent on blocking this paramount treaty ... some, perhaps, for political reasons. Yet the stakes are simply too great for politics to get in the way," Stanley wrote.
Stanley says arms-reduction and verification are very important, but added:
"Can anyone deny that Russian cooperation is essential to ensuring a nuclear-free Iran? Can anyone deny that not passing START will be a dramatic blow to U.S.-Russian relations - and a disaster in terms of our Iran policy? Where is the outcry? Our actions - in this case, our action or inaction on START - will have profoundly important repercussions."
Meanwhile, National Security Adviser Uzi Arad suggested yesterday that Israel should only consider an interim agreement, contradicting Netanyahu's goal of a permanent deal within a year. "It's not certain there is a partner for a permanent agreement," Arad said, speaking on the Israeli interview program "Meet the Press" on Channel 2.
Arad was appointed by the prime minister. Responding to Arad's comments, Netanyahu's office said the national security adviser had not mentioned an interim agreement, reiterating Netanyahu's aspiration to reach a permanent-status agreement within a year.
Arad also told Channel 2 that in exchange for the short building freeze in the settlements, the Americans had pledged not to ask for another freeze, and that the Americans' "level of understanding on this was very clear."
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