Netanyahu: Israel was ready to extend freeze

JTA JERUSALEM

Israel was prepared to extend a West Bank construction freeze, but the United States withdrew the idea, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

“The United States asked us to consider extending the freeze by three months, and the truth is that we were prepared to do so,” Netanyahu reportedly told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.

“At the end of the day, the United States decided not to go in that direction, rightly so in my opinion, and moved on to outlining talks on closing gaps, so that the core issues can be discussed.”

The Obama administration pressed Israel to implement a three-month extension of a 10-month freeze on construction on West Bank Jewish settlements in order to keep the Palestinians at the peace negotiating table. The freeze ended in late September, one month after the Palestinians agreed to restart negotiations.

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In early December the Obama administration announced that it would stop pressing for the freeze after offering Israel several inducements, including 20 F-35 stealth fighter planes and security guarantees, as a reward for continuing the freeze.

“I told Obama that I am prepared to go with this to the Cabinet and that I will be able to enforce the move, but then I received the surprising phone call from the Americans who said they no longer demand that Israel extends the freeze,” Netanyahu reportedly said.

Netanyahu said that U.S. officials are scheduled to arrive in mid-January in an effort to restart peace negotiations.

On Sunday, Netanyahu told his Cabinet that he was willing to hold continuous negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas until an agreement is reached. He was responding to a statement made a day earlier by Abbas in which the president said a peace deal could be reached in two months if Netanyahu showed “goodwill.”