Netanyahu Pushing U.S. Freeze Deal?

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his staff seem to be working diligently to convince cabinet ministers to accept the U.S. incentive package in exchange for reinstating the construction ban in Judea and Samaria - the West Bank - for another three months. The 10-month moratorium ended on September 26.

According to media reports, the prime minister believes the incentives far outweigh the disadvantages of extending the building freeze - meant to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

The document being drafted by Washington will reflect the agreements reached with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York last week, the Prime Minister's Office said.

"If the American document is designed according to these principles, it will be an excellent agreement for the State of Israel," the PMO said.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu and senior aide Yitzhak Molcho met with Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Housing Minister Ariel Attias - the two Shas ministers in his coalition - to ensure their backing on the vote.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak also met with Yishai to negotiate a deal that would convince Shas to support the U.S. proposal. In exchange for Barak's promise to approve hundreds of backlogged construction permits in Judea and Samaria, Shas would comply.

When the prime minister presents the written proposal to the 15-member Security Council, Yishai and Attias' abstentions would ensure its passage by a razor-thin margin - seven in favor, six opposed, with two abstentions.

Netanyahu has assured Shas and the Israeli public that construction in Jerusalem neighborhoods is "outside the discussion on this issue," while admitting the U.S. won't put that in writing.

But a report in the Israeli daily Haaretz on Thursday quotes an unnamed U.S. official saying the Obama administration has no intention of excluding Jerusalem from the construction ban.

"If the moratorium deal goes through, we will continue to press for quiet throughout east Jerusalem during the 90 days, regardless of what Bibi [Netanyahu] is telling Shas now," Haaretz quoted the official as having said.

"This policy will continue if the negotiations resume under a 90-day moratorium and the Israelis know it," he said. "So whatever Bibi is telling Shas to reassure them about U.S. policy on east Jerusalem is not true," he said, according to the report.

The Obama administration - and most of the rest of the world - labels Jerusalem neighborhoods outside the 1949 armistice lines as "east" Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority claims all "east" Jerusalem as its future capital.

Despite Netanyahu's apparent enthusiasm, the majority of Likud party ministers and MKs - members of Knesset - are against the Obama administration's proposal.

Opponents say the U.S. will word the document to provide plenty of leeway to renege on the promises.

Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beiteinu) told Israel Radio on Tuesday that Israelis are being duped because the much-touted incentives apply "in the event of a final-status agreement - only when everything is over."

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