Israeli PM weighing "goodwill" gestures to Palestinians

10:05, August 31, 2010      

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by Gur Salomon

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to offer Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Mahmoud Abbas several "goodwill gestures" in exchange for the Palestinian leader's approval of an Israeli renewal of construction activity in the West Bank, political sources said.

Some of the perks the Israeli premier is contemplating include the release of some Palestinians jailed in Israel, removal of certain military checkpoints in the West Bank, easing the movement of goods within the PNA and transferring a future route linking the West Bank city of Ramallah with a new Palestinian town currently under construction to full Palestinian control.

It is unclear whether Abbas or the U.S. administration would accept the offers.

With just a few hours before Netanyahu heads for Washington for a U.S.-mediated summit with the Palestinians, his plan of action over the settlement construction freeze in the West Bank -- which will expire on Sept. 26 -- remains in the dark.

Netanyahu has made no clear-cut announcements on the matter since U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the launch of direct peace talks, fearing that he would be blamed for bringing them to an early end.

But he has said in the past that the moratorium was for a defined period of 10 months, at the end of which construction would resume in full. His spokesmen, however, said recently that the construction freeze issue would be discussed during the negotiations.

Netanyahu reportedly told Likud ministers on Sunday that he had not made any promises to U.S. President Barack Obama or any U.S. official to extend the construction freeze.

"We said that the future of the communities will be discussed as one of the elements of a final-status agreement, along with the other issues. We promised nothing on this issue to the Americans," Netanyahu was quoted by the daily Ha'aretz as saying on Sunday.

While the Israeli premier is abstaining from clear-cut declarations, Israeli Army Radio reported on Monday that 57 Jewish settlements, having secured all the necessary legal permits, will resume construction projects the day after the construction freeze ends.

Meanwhile, Abbas warned on Sunday that Israel "will be held accountable for the failure of the talks if settlement construction should continue."

"We understand Israel's need for security, as well as our own such need. But the need for security is not an excuse to expand settlements and steal land," Abbas said in a speech given in Jordan.

Netanyahu's ambiguity on whether he will eventually order to extend the construction freeze -- either in full or in part -- has created tensions among the hawkish members of his right-wing coalition government who oppose granting any concessions to the Palestinians.

Hard-line Likud ministers and coalition parties have already begun to pressure Netanyahu and his Cabinet ministers not to continue the construction freeze beyond its expiration date.

Despite the pressures, sources close to Netanyahu told Xinhua that a compromise with the Palestinians -- a decision to extend the construction moratorium -- will win a majority within his Political-Security Cabinet, which is why the Israeli premier will ask the approval of his cabinet, instead of that of the government, as he did last time.

"It seems that Netanyahu will face a hard time getting this decision approved by the Cabinet since most Likud ministers, including the Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas Parties, object to any move which will extend the construction freeze," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

"However, under certain conditions, and with a compromise, in which construction will resume in the large settlement blocs and the construction freeze implemented only at isolated communities, the decision may receive the support of several Likud and Labor ministers," he added.

Netanyahu told his ministers those gestures will be made only when Israel sees that the Palestinians are "serious in their intentions to advance through the (peace) process."

But an unnamed minister said that even if such a decision would be approved by the cabinet, Netanyahu should remember that his government is entering its second year and "any political shakeup may be dangerous."

The goodwill gestures to the Palestinians currently being discussed are seen as a potential "creative solution" to the construction freeze dilemma that is threatening to derail the peace talks, whose chances of success are already perceived as nearing zero.

Source: Xinhua


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