PM: Palestinians must relax conditions
Netanyahu tells his advisors in closed talks, 'Everyone knows that moderate and restrained construction in Judea and Samaria in the coming year will not affect the peace map.' Meanwhile, Likud officials say will back extension in settlement freeze in exchange for 'significant' US incentive package
PM showing no intention to freeze settlement construction again: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday told his advisors in a closed conversation, "It wasn't easy for us to freeze new construction in Judea and Samaria for 10 months, but I met all of our commitments to the Palestinians, the American administration and the international community.
"We did it in order to give Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) the option to enter the talks without preconditions. Now I expect the Palestinians to relax their conditions and stay in the talks."
The prime minister added, "My government has implemented a long list of one-sided gestures in order to restart the peace talks. Unfortunately, the Palestinians are only toughening their stance. For 17 years they held negotiations with the Israeli government while the construction continued, including during the last year of the previous government.
"Everyone knows that moderate and restrained construction in Judea and Samaria in the coming year will not affect the peace map in any way. So the international community must call on the Palestinians to remain in the peace talks. This is a Palestinian interest just like it's our interest."
US President Barack Obama met Friday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who briefed him on the recent developments in the Middle East. The White House expressed its disappointment with the decision not to extend the settlement freeze.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that while the administration with disappointed with the decision, it did not change the Americans' determination to continue the peace process. We know there will be obstacle along the way, he said, but we will continue to lead the direct talks.
Building to be halted? Construction celebration in Ariel (Photo: Ido Erez)
Meanwhile, senior Likud officials, who last week expressed their strong objection to any extension of the West Bank settlement construction freeze, told Ynet on Friday that they would support a two-month extension in exchange for loan guarantees from the United States.
"In light of the American guarantee package and in light of what Israel can get from the United States for two additional months of freeze, chances are that when the time comes we won't oppose an extension of the freeze, if such a demand is presented by the prime minister," one of the officials said.
The sources stressed that the incentive package must be "significant" and include political and security guarantees which would resemble the guarantees given by former US President George W. Bush to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
In such a situation, Netanyahu "will be able to get the cabinet, or any other forum – including the Likud faction, to approve the deal," one of the sources noted.
The prime minister's associates in the Likud estimated that Ministers Yisrael Katz, Gideon Sa'ar, Moshe Kahlon, Yuval Steinitz and Dan Meridor, and quite a few party Knesset members, would not oppose an extension of the freeze and would not launch a political struggle against Netanyahu.
Begin, Yaalon may support extension
One of the optimistic officials estimated that in the event of a significant incentive package, "it's quite possible that even (Ministers Benny) Begin and (Moshe) Yaalon will be convinced to support a temporary and final extension.
Although Knesset members are not required to vote for an additional building moratorium, the signals coming from the Likud's activists imply that with the right "marketing," the prime minister may gain the backing of most of the party's ministers and MKs.
Sources close to Netanyahu noted Friday that the negotiations with the Americans and the consultations in Israel continued ceaselessly, with the intention of reaching understandings and continue the direct talks with the Palestinians.
The prime minister met earlier with US special envoy George Mitchell and said at the start of the meeting that Israel was interested in continuing the talks. According to various elements, "supreme efforts" will be made in the coming days in a bid to reach an understanding and meet the American and Palestinian demand, leading to a return to the negotiating table as soon as possible.
Meanwhile Friday, the Likud movement announced that some 50,000 new members had joined the party since the 2009 elections, bringing the number of members to 130,000-140,000.
Sources close to Netanyahu expressed their satisfaction with the announcement, claimin that most of the new members were "real Likud people" rather than extreme rightists, settlers or members of Moshe Feiglin's Jewish Leadership faction.
"We have received many forms from cities like Ramla, Haifa and the Krayot area, Rishon Lezion, Ramat Gan, Jerusalem and other places which are the real Likud," the movement said in a statement.
"The Knesset members and ministers can breathe with relief – in the next primary elections they will not longer be taken hostage by the Feiglin people. This is a sign that Netanyahu's status in the Likud is growing stronger, and this will eventually allow him to lead political moves as well, if he seeks to do so."
Yitzhak Benhorin in Washington contributed to this report
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