Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday that contacts with the United States over a renewed moratorium on West Bank construction had been frozen in the wake of the WikiLeaks crisis and the tensions between North and South Korea.
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"We have not reached understanding with the United States on how to resume the construction freeze," Barak told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. "The negotiations with the Palestinians are of utmost priority for Israel and we must aspire to make them happen."
Barak said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had reached a gentlemen's agreement in their discussions over trading a freeze for certain American guarantees, adding that a deal was not yet "closed" and that the approval of Congress was still needed.
The defense minister's explanation was met with some incredulity by committee members, who accused him of making excuses for Israel's problematic foreign policy.
The Obama administration had proposed that Israel take on a new three-month moratorium on settlement construction after a 10-month slowdown expired in September, causing peace talks to stall.
To entice the Israelis to sign on to the deal, the U.S. has proposed a package of incentives including a gift of 20 next-generation stealth fighter planes and U.S. pledges to veto anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations, Israeli officials have said.
Netanyahu has yet to commit to a renewal, saying he is waiting for written U.S. assurances. Palestinians say they will not return to negotiations without a total freeze that includes both East Jerusalem and the West Bank.