'No Tension Between Israel and U.S. Over Settlement Freeze Assurances'

State Department declines to comment on whether letter will be forthcoming, says willing to make every effort to return sides to talks.

An Israeli official on Tuesday denied reports of tensions between Israel and the United States over the American proposal for a further freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank, in particular a letter from President Barack Obama sought by Israel that would detail the incentives offered by the U.S. in return for a new moratorium on settlement building.

“Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu stands firm on the terms essential for the security of Israel and its diplomatic interests,” the source said.

Netanyahu-Clinton - AP - Nov. 11, 2010

“If we receive a letter including all of these components, as agreed with Secretary of State Clinton, the prime minster will present it to the cabinet with great conviction, as he is convinced that this is the right thing for the State of Israel,” the source continued. “If items fundamental to national security and interests are not delivered, he will not bring it to the cabinet. It is that simple.”

Washington, however, has refrained from making any commitments regarding the contents of any letter from the president to Netanyahu. The prime minister and Clinton held a meeting last week in New York, during which Clinton apparently made a series of commitments to guarantee a new Israeli settlement freeze.  

“We're prepared to do everything that we can to create the conditions for both the Palestinians and the Israelis to have confidence to return to direct negotiations,” said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley on Tuesday, when asked if the U.S. was willing to hand Israel a letter outlining steps it is willing to take to return Israel and the Palestinians to the negotiating table.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly vowed that he will not return to negotiations unless Israel commits to a new construction freeze, after the original 10-month building suspension ended in September.