Israel Eyes U.S. Carrot For Stalling Settlement

The White House has offered Israel a package of incentives in exchange for a 90-day freeze on construction in the West Bank. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brings the proposals before the Israeli cabinet Sunday. Host Liane Hansen gets the details from NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Jerusalem.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

A new push by the White House to break the impasse in Middle East peace negotiations is being discussed in Israel today. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting with his cabinet to present a package of military and security incentives the U.S. has offered in exchange for a 90-day freeze on construction in the West Bank.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in Jerusalem with the details. Hi, Lourdes.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hi.

HANSEN: Explain what are these initiatives being offered by the Obama administration?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This really has the sense of a last-minute attempt to save the peace process. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Secretary of State Clinton met in the U.S. for over seven hours, if you'll remember. And this is apparently the deal they were working on.

What we've heard, in return for accepting a 90-day settlement freeze, the U.S. is offering $3 billion worth of state-of-the-art airplanes, a promise that the U.S. will veto any resolution that comes up in the United Nations that adversely impacts Israel's interests, and - this is key - including any unilateral move by the Palestinians to declare an independent state. That's something the Palestinians have been talking about doing recently.

Finally, the United States promises not to ask for another freeze again. So, a lucrative package for a 90-day freeze. The U.S. clearly deciding that it's going to adopt the carrot and not the stick approach with Israel in order to get the Middle East peace process moving.

Now, the reason a settlement freeze in the occupied territories is so important is because since the last one expired six weeks ago, talks have been on hold. The Palestinians saying, and the Arab League supporting them, that they won't negotiate while land they want for a future state is being illegally built on.

HANSEN: What's been the reaction to, as you say, the carrot so far?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, unsurprisingly, the main settler organizations are furious. They are threatening to topple Netanyahu's government over the issue. Pro-settler parties form a large part of Netanyahu's coalition, and if they decide to withdraw from the coalition, it would be a big problem for Netanyahu.

The Palestinians, on their part, are mulling what to do. The problem for them is that the settlement freeze proposal currently being considered would only be for the West Bank and not East Jerusalem, and that's an area they want for the capital of their future state.

Beyond all this, Netanyahu needs the support of his cabinet before the rest of anyone else has a say in this to reinstate the freeze. And it's not clear he could get the majority to approve it. So, what happens if this doesn't go through? Well, the peace process essentially collapses is what analysts here are telling me. It's been teetering on the brink for a while now.

HANSEN: Ninety days isn't a lot of time. How much progress can realistically be achieved?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, 90 days is an extremely short amount of time, but the idea is that they would focus on one issue, and that's the issue of borders. If in that time the Israelis and Palestinians can agree on what is Israel and what will be Palestinian territory, then the issue of settlements becomes moot in a way. Because Palestinians and Israelis would agree to certain land swaps and then presumably Israel could build on the land that everyone had agreed was theirs and they would stop building on land that everyone had agreed would be Palestinian.

But 90 days is a really short amount of time to basically resolve one of the biggest issues in the peace process. And with this deal, the Americans have basically tied their hands, because they're promising not to ask for another building freeze.

HANSEN: There was a new report released today by Peace Now, the settlement-monitoring group. It shows there's been a building boom in the occupied territories. We have only a few seconds left. How much has been built?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, the report basically shows that settler groups are building at a furious pace - some 1,600 new buildings have gone up in the occupied territories, basically erasing what the 10-month moratorium had achieved.

HANSEN: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. She's in Jerusalem. Lourdes, thank you so much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

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