x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Israel and US in standoff over peace talks deal

Details over settlement building moratorium 'still being negotiated' as Israel's cabinet awaits formal US letter outlining terms for deal to revive Palestinian peace talks

JERUSALEM // Israel and the United States were in a standoff today over the terms of a Washington-proposed settlement construction moratorium meant to revive the Middle East peace talks.

Israeli officials had said several days ago that the US had agreed that the 90-day moratorium would be the last time Israel would be asked to renew building limitations that expired in late September, after 10 months.

They also said the renewal, like the earlier moratorium, would not apply to disputed east Jerusalem, the Palestinians' hoped-for capital.

But an Israeli official said today those terms have not been finalised.

Asked whether the Americans were in fact willing to be so explicit on these two critical issues, the official replied, "It's being negotiated." He spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal was still being negotiated.

The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said yesterday that a ministerial vote on the deal had been held up pending the arrival of a formal US letter outlining the deal's terms.

A State Department spokesman, PJ. Crowley, refused to say whether the US was willing to give Israel written assurances.

Israel's ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, whose vote on the deal will be crucial, said it would not support it unless the US states in writing that the moratorium will not apply to east Jerusalem. Israel captured that sector of the city, home to shrines sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it in a move that is not recognised internationally.

Shas also wants the US to state clearly that there will be no US pressure to curb building after the new 90-day moratorium is up.

Palestinians say they will not resume negotiations, which broke down three weeks after they began in early September at the White House, until Israel stops building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territory they claim for their future state, along with the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said there would be no formal Palestinian reaction to the plan until it is formally presented during a meeting scheduled Wednesday with a senior US envoy.

The US goal is to use a new moratorium to make critical progress toward delineating Israel's final borders with a future Palestinian state.

Israeli officials have said that in return for construction curbs, the US has promised Israel a gift of 20 next-generation stealth warplanes and crucial diplomatic support at the United Nations.