US-Israel building freeze deal falling apart

Thursday, November 25, 2010 |  Ryan Jones

As Israel continues to wait for an official letter outlining the Obama Administration’s commitments to Israel in return for a 90-day Jewish building freeze in areas claimed by the Palestinians, Israeli media reports that the deal appears to be falling apart.

Originally, it was reported that in return for the building freeze and restarting direct talks with the Palestinians, the US would take Israeli security demands more seriously, provide greater backing at the UN, and give Israel 20 F-35 fighter jets. The freeze would not include eastern Jerusalem, and would be the last time the US asked for or supporting a Jewish building freeze.

That is how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented the deal to his cabinet, because that is how US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented it to him.

But Israeli cabinet ministers were wise to insist on a written letter from the Obama White House before agreeing to the freeze, because it now seems the American leadership was trying to pull a fast one on Israel.

The first crack began to show early last week when American officials reneged on Clinton’s original wording by saying that a Jewish building freeze in Jerusalem was part of the deal. Israelis had at first been told Jerusalem would not be part of the freeze, in line with Israel’s position that Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem are not “settlements.”

Around the same time, National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau clarified that even Clinton’s wording was being misrepresented, as her offer of jets and diplomatic support would only be realized if the building freeze resulted in a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, a near-impossible feat considering Palestinian positions.

Israeli ministers later learned that the F-35 fighter jets, which were touted as the best reason for taking a risk on the freeze, were to be part of a separate package, and that Israel would pay for them in full.

Israel National News (INN) is now reporting that Clinton and Obama tried to pull a “bait and switch” on Israel, with Clinton offering a deal the White House hoped Israel would accept without confirmation, only to later have Obama renege on the deal because he had never approved it in the first place.

According to a senior unnamed diplomat cited by INN, State Department officials were surprised when Netanyahu called them wondering why no formal letter or proposal had yet been sent. They insisted that Netanyhau had to have known that anything Clinton promised was only a suggestion, and that Obama has the final say.

Without a US letter guaranteeing that no additional freezes will be demanded and that the requested freeze will expire in 90 days, Netanyahu will not have the support of his cabinet in this matter. As the situation now stands, if Netanyahu goes ahead with the freeze under US pressure, it is highly likely that his government will be brought down by the right-wing parties.

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