Yitzhak Benhorin
September 30, 2010 - 12:00am

The Obama administration is pressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend the settlement construction moratorium by two months, Jewish senators were told at a White House briefing.

The Foreign Policy magazine's website quoted Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) as saying Wednesday that Dennis Ross, the National Security Council senior director for the Central Region, and Susan Sher, chief of staff to the First Lady who also serves as the top White House Jewish outreach official, told Jewish members of the Senate that the Obama administration is pushing Netanyahu to extend the now-lapsed West Bank building moratorium for 60 days as one way to allow Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to continue.

During the meeting, Ross and Sher said the Obama Administration is also pressuring Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas not to quit the talks regardless of whether Israel extends the moratorium or not.

Levin was among 87 senators who earlier this week sent President Barack Obama a letter urging him to pressure the Palestinians to continue the negotiations. According to him, both the Israelis and Palestinians want to continue the direct talks.

David Makovsky of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy reported that Obama had sent Netanyahu a letter in which he guarantees that the US would not ask Israel for another extension beyond 60 days.

"Rather, the future of settlements is to be settled at the table as part of territorial negotiations. Second, the letter promises that the United States will veto any UN Security Council initiative -- Arab or otherwise -- relating to Arab-Israeli peace during the agreed one-year negotiating period. Third, Washington pledged to accept the legitimacy of existing Israeli security needs and not seek to redefine them. In this context, the letter explicitly mentions the need to ensure a complete ban on the smuggling of rockets, mortars, arms, and related items, as well as the infiltration of terrorists into Israel," according to Makovsky.

The report further states that he letter explicitly discusses the "need to enhance Israel's defense capabilities in the event that the parties reach security arrangements.

According to the report, the Americans consulted with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and chief Israeli peace negotiator Yitzhak Molcho before sending the letter to Netanyahu.

"Even if a security deal fails to materialize, Washington's offer creates the baseline for Israel's defense needs in a post-peace era. These needs reportedly include a range of missile systems and aircraft (e.g., additional F-35s), layered missile defense, and multiplatform early warning means, including satellites. The Obama administration realizes that these needs would mean an unspecified increase in US security assistance to Israel once a peace agreement is concluded," Makovsky wrote.


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