World and Nation

U.S. presses Israelis on<br />renewal of settlement freeze

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is trying to cajole the Israeli government into a 60-day renewal of the freeze on Jewish settlement building by offering it security guarantees, ranging from military hardware to support for a long-term Israeli presence in the strategically sensitive Jordan Valley, according to lawmakers and other officials briefed on the proposals.

But with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ’75 so far resisting the administration’s entreaties, the United States is also weighing a fallback plan, officials said, that could involve reaching out to the Palestinians with a pledge to formally endorse one of their central demands for the borders of a future Palestinian state.

The U.S. proposals to Israel came amid a frenzy of diplomatic horse-trading, with the administration maneuvering furiously to keep the talks alive while Netanyahu appeared to be trying to extract a high price for acquiescing on settlements. The Palestinians have threatened to walk away from the talks if Israel does not renew its freeze on construction, something Netanyahu has ruled out.

Adding to the pressure is a meeting in Cairo next week of the Arab League, at which the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has promised to deliver a speech in which he will “declare historical decisions.”

That sparked rumors that he might threaten to resign, something he has done before.

For now, the administration’s focus remains on Netanyahu, whom U.S. officials hope they can persuade to renew the freeze, with the understanding that Washington will ask for no further extensions. The administration’s special envoy to the region, George J. Mitchell, met with Netanyahu on Wednesday and plans to meet him again before seeing Abbas on Friday.

On Wednesday, the White House’s senior Middle East advisers, Dennis B. Ross and Daniel B. Shapiro, briefed Democratic representatives on Capitol Hill about what Ross described as a “string of assurances in return for a two-month moratorium,” according to people who were in the meeting.

Netanyahu has brushed aside these offers, officials said. For him, said an Israeli official, the political necessity of standing firm on settlements outweighs any security incentives offered by the United States.

Abbas said he would consult with the Palestinian movement and the Arab League before deciding his next move. The Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee is due to meet Saturday. The Arab League, originally planning a Monday meeting, has delayed that gathering until Wednesday.

But word of the speech by Abbas has deepened the unease in Jerusalem and Washington. A Palestinian spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said he did know what Abbas planned to say, but that talk of his resignation was only speculation.

The administration has not yet made a proposal to the Palestinians, according to a Palestinian official.