Israel puts off a vote on talks
US plan would extend freeze
JERUSALEM — An Israeli official said yesterday that an expected ministerial vote on a US proposal for restarting Mideast peace talks has been put on hold.
The plan would have Israel freeze new West Bank settlement construction for 90 days to persuade the Palestinians to resume talks, which broke down in late September just weeks after they were launched. In exchange, Israel would get US military and diplomatic support.
The Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under civil service guidelines, blamed both the United States and the Palestinians for the delay.
He said that Israel was still waiting for a formal written proposal from the United States. He also said the Palestinians have raised objections to terms of the deal — a contention the Palestinians rejected.
Because of the uncertainty, the official said a vote in Israel’s 15-member Security Cabinet that had been expected today would not take place.
The US-brokered talks stalled after a 10-month Israeli slowdown on settlement construction expired Sept. 26. The Palestinians say there is no point in negotiating now that Israel has resumed building homes on captured territories claimed by the Palestinians.
Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — areas that were captured in the 1967 Mideast war and that the Palestinians claim for a future independent state.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he would not renew the settlement restrictions. But under heavy US pressure, he worked out the contours of a compromise with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last week.
The Security Cabinet is believed to be closely divided, and it was possible that the Israeli delay is also meant as a chance for Netanyahu to shore up support for the plan. Netanyahu’s coalition is dominated by prosettlement hard-liners who oppose any further restrictions on construction.
Under the deal, Israel would halt most West Bank construction for 90 days, but be allowed to build in East Jerusalem. The White House would pledge to ask Congress to deliver 20 stealth fighter jets, valued at $3 billion, and promise to veto anti-Israel resolutions at the UN.
The Israeli official said the Palestinians have raised objections to the compromise — particularly the East Jerusalem construction and UN assurances.
But Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat rejected the assertion. He said the Palestinians have not yet reacted to the package because it has not been officially presented.
“We don’t know the package. I cannot comment on something I haven’t received yet,’’ Erekat said.
He said a US envoy was expected in the West Bank today to deliver the plan, and accused the Israelis of playing a premature “blame game.’’