Israeli Opposition to U.S. Proposal Growing

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JERUSALEM, Israel - A day after it appeared the Israeli government would approve the Obama administration's request for a 90-day extension of the building freeze in Judea and Samaria - the West Bank - opposition to the proposal appears to be growing.

An Israeli government official told Army Radio the Palestinian Authority has rejected the U.S. proposal.

"The benefits that Israel is supposed to receive are not acceptable to the Palestinians because they prevent them from avoiding direct talks," the official said, according to Army Radio.

In other local radio interviews Tuesday morning, Likud Minister-without-portfolio Benny Begin voiced his opposition to the proposal.

Begin is the son of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who signed Israel's first peace deal in 1979 with then Egyptian Prime Minister Anwar Sadat during Jimmy Carter's presidency.

"If no agreement is reached, the Americans will ask us to continue the freeze because they have no other solution," Begin said.

It seems unlikely that core issues such as security and permanent borders can be reached in 90 days.

The Likud minister said he was also leery of the U.S. promise to sell 20 F-35 fighter jets to Israel, calling it "an enticement meant to lure Israel into a political trap." His assessment echoed an earlier remark by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who called the U.S. proposal a "honey trap."

Begin also criticized the ultra-Orthodox Shas party's plan to abstain from the vote, which would ensure the proposal's passage by a one-vote margin. He recalled the party's refusal to discuss the issue in November 2009 because of its strong opposition to a construction freeze.

"…they abstained because they were against the freeze and now they're abstaining because they support the freeze," Begin said. "I don't think that's a worthy public position," he said.

Shas Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias are waiting for a ruling by the party's spiritual leader.

"We will not support the proposal," Attias told Army Radio. "We will either oppose it or abstain from voting, depending on the decision of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef," he said.

The proposal, which calls for a three-month extension in exchange for multi-billion dollar diplomatic and security incentives, is being drafted by the Obama administration.

The components of the proposal were hammered out in New York last week in more than seven hours of meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her staff.

Earlier today, Likud Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy Dan Meridor outlined the four key incentives offered by the U.S. in exchange for extending the freeze.

· The U.S. would not ask for any additional extensions.
· The U.S. would block Palestinian efforts in the U.N. Security Council to declare a state unilaterally.
· U.S. military aid packages would ensure Israel's quantitative and qualitative edge in the region.
· Permanent borders would be included with other core issues and not discussed independently.

Meridor told Army Radio the U.S. must provide written affirmation of these conditions before the cabinet could vote on the extension.

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The Jerusalem Post contributed to this report.

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