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Israel Ready To Consider Extension Of Settlement Freeze

Israel's U.S. Ambassador Michael Oren: 'Israel Will Be Ready To Consider Extension Of Ten Month Settlement Freeze In Framework Of Direct Negotiations With Palestinians'

'U.S. Fully Supports Israel's Right To Enforce Sea Blockade Of Gaza & Israel Has Accepted Adjustments To Ease Supplies To Gaza'

IsraCast Assessment: Israel's Apparent Readiness To Consider Extending Ten Month Settlement Freeze Could Be Part Of New Israeli Initiative To Kick-start Direct Negotiations With Palestinians This Fall

Michael Oren

In an interview with Israel Radio's English News, Ambassador Michael Oren has indicated the Netanyahu government will be ready to consider an extension of the ten month settlement freeze in Judea & Samaria. However, such a possibility had to be dealt with in direct negotiations with the Palestinians. Until now, Prime Minister Netanyahu has declared the building freeze will expire after its ten month time-frame runs out on September 26th. Until now, government leaders have indicated that building in the settlements woll then be resumed. In another development, Israel has made clear that she will not permit any vessels sailing to Gaza to violate her maritime blockade. IsraCast analyst David Essing assesses the implications.

 For the first time, an Israeli official has indicated that Jerusalem will be ready to consider an extension of its current ten month settlement freeze, in return for the Palestinians returning to face to face negotiations with the Palestinians. Ambassador Michael Oren did not state categorically that the Netanyahu was ready to strike such a deal, but that was the obvious implication. He added that that the issue itself had not been raised yet with the U.S., however Oren recently had a private meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Palestinian track was obviously high on the agenda. Special U.S. envoy George Mitchell, the middleman in the current proximity talks, has also been meeting not only with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Abbas, but also with Arab leaders in the region.

Oren told Israel Radio's English News that the four-month time frame for the proximity talks would actually expire in late August or early September- he related that this was actually an ongoing process although it has been perceived by the media as not ever getting off the ground. The diplomat stressed that Jerusalem and Washington saw eye-to-eye on the proximity talks serving as a 'corridor' to direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. However, the Ambassador said that Israel and the U.S. were not on the same page over Israeli building across the old 1967 lines in Jerusalem. Nonetheless, the two sides had agreed had agreed on a 'mechanism for preventing unpleasant surprises' such as the Ramat Shlomo announcement during the official visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. In protest, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas canceled the proximity talks and Netanyahu to freeze settlement building in Judea & Samaria for ten months as an inducement to the Palestinians.

Binyamin Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Until now, Prime Minister Netanyahu has declared that settlement building will be resumed after those ten months run out on September 26th. If the Israeli leader is prepared to discuss an extension of the settlement freeze as part of new face-to-face negotiations with the Palestinians, this would mark a major shift in policy. He would have to receive major Palestinian concessions in return. Likud hardliners such as cabinet ministers Benny Begin and Moshe Yaalon, as well as Right-wing coalition partners are likely to hit the roof. Such a decision would trigger a political firestorm in Israeli politics, perhaps threatening to topple the government coalition. Netanyahu would have to receive a comparable quid pro quo from Abbas. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, about to begin a round of talks in Washington, has been pressing the Prime Minister to launch a new diplomatic peace initiative and the settlement freeze could be linked to such a gambit. Overall, Ambassador Oren described Israeli-U.S. relations as now 'being in a very good place' after the recent tensions. Washington supported Israel's maritime blockade of Gaza to prevent the smuggling of rockets and weapons to Hamas for fresh attacks on Israel. On the other hand, the U.S. had suggested adjustments to ease the flow of goods through the Israel's land terminal to Gaza and Jerusalem had taken this advice. The U.S. also agreed that any vessels should offload their cargoes at the Israeli port of Ashdod, just up the coast from Gaza, from where they would be transported by truck after being checked.

On another question, Washington also supported the civilian inquiry established by Israel to investigate the Marmara ship incident. Nine Turks were killed during a violent attack on the Israeli naval commandos, who diverted the vessel to Ashdod in keeping with Israel's blockade of Gaza. The bottom line was that if any vessels again try to violate the Israeli blockade they will be forced to change course for the Israeli port of Ashdod where their cargoes will be offloaded for inspection to search for rockets and weapons. Only then will Israel permit the cargoes to be transported by truck to Gaza.

The Iranian Missile Range

P.S.: Is Israel's warning of the Iranian nuclear threat finally getting through? At a Congressional hearing, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned:'Iran can launch dozens even hundreds of missiles at Europe!' However, Gates described Russia's yes and no about imposing sanctions on Iran as 'schizophrenic'. Although Moscow recognized the security threat posed by a nuclear Iran but on the other hand it wanted to take advantage of 'economic opportunies' that Gates said were not only available to the Europeans. In response, an angry Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told the the Wall Street Journal: 'The U.S. has nothing to lose by imposing more sanctions on Iran because she has no ties with Iran like Russia and China'. America, as leader of the Free World sacrifices most of her lucrative ties with Iran in confronting the nuclear threat, and then is told by countries like Russia and China that she has now nothing to lose economically, so don't interfere with our business. Is this not the kind of international immorality that drives most of the UN's decisions and actions.

David Essing

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