Oren: U.S. Offered Israel Incentives for Settlement Freeze Extension

Comments by Israel envoy to the U.S. come as PA official confirms Palestinian willingness to rejoin peace talks if temporary freeze achieved.

Barak Ravid
The Associated Press
Haaretz Service

The United States offered Israel "incentives" geared toward encouraging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet to extend the recently expired moratorium on settlement building, Israel's U.S. envoy Michael Oren said in an interview with the Washington Post on Wednesday.

Ambassador Michael Oren.Credit: Natasha Mozgovaya

"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.

Late last month, a White House official denied reports that U.S. President Barack Obama had sent Netanyahu a letter proposing a set of U.S. guarantees to Israel in exchange for Israel extending a freeze on settlement construction.

However, in the first such confirmation by an Israeli official of the existence of a U.S. offer of the kind, Oren told the Washington Post that the U.S. "administration has come back to Israel with a number of suggestions - incentives if you would - that would enable the government to maybe pass a limited extension of 2 or 3 months."

"They are talking to the Palestinians as well trying to keep them at the table and talking to the Arab League so that it would give the Palestinians another green light to continue at the table," Oren said, adding that the result, if any, of such attempts will be received "in the next 48 hours."

Nabil Shaath Credit: AP

The comments by Israel's envoy to the United States came as a top Palestinian negotiator said Thursdays that the Palestinians have accepted a U.S. proposal calling on Israel to extend a West Bank settlement slowdown for another two months.

Nabil Shaath says the Palestinians accept such a limited extension provided the two sides can reach agreement on the borders between Israel and a future Palestine in those two months.

If there's no deal at that time, Shaath said, the settlement freeze would have to be extended further.

Shaath said that in principle, "We will not accept anything less than stopping settlement activity in total, period."

Referring to the existences of an alleged deal based on an offer by the Obama administration, Shaath said last week 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 with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah two weeks ago.

Shaath reiterated Palestinian insistence that they 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.

During a visit to the city of Lod in central Israel, Netanyahu referred to recent stalls in peace talks with the Palestinians, saying that that Israel had "pledged before the international community and the United States to start peace talks."

"The Palestinians waited nine months and more out of ten months, and set a precondition right off the bat, even though they committed to no preconditions," the PM said, adding that the Israeli government's decision "was executed swiftly, we lived up to our obligations"

The premier also said he hoped the PA would "stay at the negotiations table, and I think that the important thing is that we try and advanced toward an agreement that would end the conflict between us."

"But today the Palestinians are the ones who should be asked: 'Why are you walking out of the negotiations? Don't turn your back on peace," Netanyahu said.

Also on Thursday, a senior Labor official tied a recently proposed amendment to Israel's loyalty oath, under which anyone taking Israeli citizenship to swear allegiance to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state" with Netanyahu's attempts to resolve peace talks difficulties.

Hinting that the revised wording may have been a move to appease rightist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in view of possible concessions to the PA, the Labor minister said that he hoped "Netanyahu's support is a payoff to Lieberman, so that the prime minister will be able to extend the freeze without breaking apart his coalition."

"Netanyahu is under heavy pressure from the Americans," the minister said. "I presume that he intends to announce an extension of the freeze soon.