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Opposition Mounts to US Plan for Israeli Settlement Freeze

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairing the weekly meeting of his Cabinet (file photo)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his Cabinet to try to shore up support for a 90-day moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank that is aimed at reviving Middle East peace talks.

Israel ended a 10-month moratorium in late September, prompting the Palestinians to suspend negotiations.

The United States has offered to sell Israel 20 advanced stealth fighter jets and to block anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations Security Council in exchange for the settlement freeze.

But Mr. Netanyahu is having trouble winning support from his right-wing coalition partners.

Cabinet Minister Eli Yishai said his ultra-Orthodox Shas party opposes the freeze. But he said the party might reconsider, if the U.S. guarantees that it will not demand any further restrictions on settlement construction when the 90-day period expires.

The dovish Labor Party, on the other hand, supports the freeze.

Labor Cabinet Minister Avishai Braverman urged the prime minister to move quickly to get the peace talks back on track.

Outside of the Cabinet meeting, some 2,000 Jewish settlers held a noisy protest against the moratorium.

"We will never allow the Land of Israel to be divided!" said settlement leader Dani Dayan.

Speaking in Cairo, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also rejected the freeze because it only applies to the West Bank.

He said he would not return to peace talks, unless Israel also stops settlement construction in disputed East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state. Israel says Jerusalem is not a settlement, and it reserves the right to build anywhere in the city.

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