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Israel-Palestine: Netanyahu Seeks Cabinet Agreement to 2-Month Extension of Settlements Freeze

While Washington has denied that President Obama sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu giving assurances in return for an extension of the moratorium on settlement expansion in the West Bank, the London-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat quoted Israeli officials on Monday that Netanyahu has agreed to extend Israel's freeze for 60 days. 

According to rumours, Obama's offer included a continued Israel Defense Forces presence in the Jordan Valley, continued US political and military support with an annual increase of $3 billion, a commitment to veto any anti-Israel UN Security Council resolution in the next year, an agreement not to ask for any more extensions of the freeze, with that the fate of the settlements dealt with only as part of a final status agreement with the Palestinians, a series of guarantees to prevent the smuggling of weapons and missiles into a Palestinian state, and a comprehensive regional defense pact for protection from Iran. 

At a meeting of Likud ministers, Netanyahu hinted at a freeze extension, saying there were "a lot of reports on the subject, most of which are wrong, and we can't deny or correct everything".  He added: "Now there is interest in continuing the peace negotiations... Peace is a vital interest for the State of Israel."

Unsurprisingly, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, did not officially end the peace talks more than a week after the expiration of the moratorium. However, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation has said that the discussion will not continue until Israel agrees to another freeze.

Netanyahu is seeking a consensus with his top ministers on Tuesday. In the Forum of Seven --- Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Labor), Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor (Likud), Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu), Benny Begin (Likud), Moshe Ya'alon (Likud) and Eli Yishai (Shas) --- Yishai and Lieberman are the most important political actors needed for a Cabinet decision. The Israeli Prime Minister needs some resolution before the Arab League follow-up committee meets in Libya on Friday to deliver its own stance on whether peace negotiations should continue. 

The US assurances to Netanyahu might be tempting, but it will not be easy for Lieberman and Yishai, given the celebrations of their parties over the end of the settlements freeze. On the other hand,both men will know that political resistance risks the end of their political careers in Israel's inner circle. 

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