Ma'an News Agency
November 15, 2010 - 1:00am

CAIRO (DPA) -- A possible 90-day temporary freeze on construction at Israeli West Bank settlements, proposed by the US, may not be enough to prompt Palestinian and Arab support for renewing Middle East peace talks, an Arab League official said Monday.

In Israel, meanwhile, ministers jockeyed to take positions for and against the proposal, which reportedly has not yet been finalized and will not be bought before Israeli decision-making bodies until it is.

"If the news is true about there being a settlement freeze that excludes Jerusalem and that takes the criticism off Israel, I cannot imagine that would be acceptable to the Palestinian side or the Arab side," said Hesham Youssef, an official with the office of the secretary general of the Arab League.

He said the Arab League is waiting to see what Israel and the United States are going to offer the Palestinians before making any decisions, though.

The Arab League is also mulling over alternative options to direct Palestinian-Israeli talks, one of which may include seeking United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state.

Under the US proposal, which emerged after a marathon meeting in New York last Thursday between Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Israel will freeze construction at its West Bank settlements for 90 days, in return for which the US would give Israel support at the United Nations, as well as a supply of 20 advanced fighter aircraft.

The plan is intended to facilitate the return of the Palestinians to the peace talks.

Direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks got underway at the beginning of September, after a hiatus of nearly two years, but stalled just weeks later, when Israel's partial moratorium on settlement construction expired and was not renewed.

President Mahmoud Abbas insisted that the Palestinians would not negotiate until and unless the freeze was renewed.

Netanyahu refused to comment publicly on any new freeze and the Arab nations have made clear that, from their vantage point, talks cannot take place while Israel continues to build at settlements on the occupied West Bank, a swath of land which would be the cornerstone of any future independent Palestinian state.

Although Netanyahu said at Sunday's cabinet meeting in Jerusalem that the plan was "still being formulated by Israeli and the American teams," ministers opposed to it have been quick to make their views known.

Vice-Premier Moshe Ya'alon said Sunday the proposal was a "honey- trap." On Monday afternoon, Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, like Ya'alon a member of Netanyahu's Likud Party, convened legislators opposed to the plan to discuss how to thwart it.

Participants in the meeting included parliamentary coalition whip Ze'ev Elkin, who on Sunday also spoke out against the proposals, and the heads of several parliamentary committees.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, on the other hand, leader of the centre-left Labour Party, praised the plan, telling Israel Army Radio that the fact that Washington was prepared to place incentives on the table was "a very serious achievement on the part of the prime minister."

"There are two possibilities," he said. "Either we reach understandings with the Americans, who will find a way to obligate the Palestinians to sit around the negotiating table - or the Palestinians and the world will reach understandings with the Americans, and we will be the ones forced to deal with it."

Although ministers from the Labour Party can be expected to support the proposal when it comes to a vote in the cabinet and inner cabinet, the backing of other coalition parties is not guaranteed.

Netanyahu's largest coalition partner, the ultra-nationalist Yisrael B'Teinu party, said it also opposed a new freeze, and the Ultra-Orthodox Shas party, the third-largest in the coalition, has indicated it would abstain.

Media reports in Israel Monday predicted that when the proposal was brought before the inner, security, cabinet, possibly even this week, it would pass by a razor-thin majority, with seven of the 13- member body supporting it.


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