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U.S. Gives Israel Planes, Perks to Freeze West Bank Construction for 90 Days

FILE: This Sept. 28, 2010, photo shows workers using ground moving equipment at a construction site in the Jewish settlement of Revava, near the West Bank city of Nablus.AP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared close to getting cabinet approval on a 90-day freeze on construction in disputed West Bank territories after winning a number of concessions from a United States hotly interested in getting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks back on track.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday would not discuss the details of the deal, but a diplomat familiar with the negotiation told The Associated Press that Israel would be allowed to finish hundreds of apartments already under construction even if it agrees to the U.S.-drafted deal.

"From our understanding, what was allowed under the previous freeze can continue. What was not allowed under the previous freeze cannot continue," the diplomat said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the details of the deal have not been finalized.

An Israeli cabinet minister also told Israeli television that the U.S. would guarantee for a year to use its veto power in the United Nations against any unilateral Palestinian U.N. initiatives. 

The U.S. would provide 20 F-35 fighter jets free of charge. That's a $3 billion value. It would be in addition to 20 F-35s that Israel already planned to purchase. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the supply of the planes was not contingent on concluding a final peace deal. 

The deal would allow Israel to continue construction in eastern Jerusalem, where the Palestinians would like to place their capital. Construction that started up after the last 10-month freeze expired in Sept. 26 served as the Palestinian impetus to suspend negotiations. 

However, two committees dealing with the Gilo settlement that was the source of contention reportedly announced Monday that at the request of the prime minister's office they would remove the construction of 1,300 apartments from its agenda.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Clinton said that Netanyahu's pursuit of an additional freeze is a "promising development and a serious effort." She said that the State Department is working closely and intensively with both the Israelis and the Palestinians on conditions for the resumption of negotiations. 

"Prime Minister Netanyahu and I had a very productive and quite extensive set of discussions on Thursday in New York. So we are going to keep working every single day to bring about the swift resumption of negotiations on all the final status issues," Clinton said. "So we are going to continue to do everything we possibly can to get the parties to begin the kind of serious end game negotiations that are necessary."

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley also declined to offer details on the specifics of the offer to the Israelis to get them back to the table.

"Our policy with regard to Israel's security is well-known," Crowley told reporters while refusing to comment. "Any time you have reports on specific (offers on the table), some details may be right; some details may be wrong."

Just as cryptically, Crowley said that the U.S. is trying to create conditions on both sides to encourage the sides to return, but would not provide details about any sweeteners for the Palestinians.

"On the Palestinian side, the only way to end the conflict once and for all is through a negotiation that addresses all the core issues and that's what we're trying to accomplish," he said, adding that ensuring a viable Palestinian state would allow the U.S. to gain leverage in getting the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiations. 

Some Palestinian quarters suggested Monday that the concessions offered to get Israel to the table were not acceptable to getting Palestinians back to negotiations regardless of the perks offered to them. Others said they had not had an opportunity to discuss the issue with the U.S.

"Once we see it we will meet and have a response," said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

But Clinton said she had talked to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad just Monday morning and was encouraged by his response.

The Arab League reportedly said any deal that doesn't include a freeze on construction in east Jerusalem is dead on arrival. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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