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US Prepared to Put Security Offer to Israel in Writing

The Obama administration said Friday it is prepared to offer Israel written security guarantees to help re-start direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The letter would formalize understandings reached last week between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The State Department says it is ready to put commitments Secretary Clinton made to Prime Minister Netanyahu in writing, if that will contribute to a re-start of the stalled direct peace talks.

The Secretary and Israeli leader met for more than seven hours last week in New York on terms for Israel to revive the freeze on most West Bank settlement activity that expired in September and led to the breakdown of the U.S. brokered talks.

Although U.S. officials have not provided details, news reports say the understanding they reached provides for a one-time 90-day settlement freeze in exchange for the U.S. provision to Israel of 20 advanced F-35 fighter planes and other incentives.

Mr. Netanyahu reportedly has asked that the U.S. offer be put in writing to expedite approval of the renewed freeze by his right-leaning coalition cabinet which has opposed a further freeze.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley made clear the Obama administration is fully prepared to oblige. "We are still having discussions with the Israelis to encourage them to return to direct negotiations and to create the conditions for a direct negotiation to resume. If as part of this process, we need to write certain things down, we will," he said.

The offer to augment the already-extensive U.S. military aid program to Israel to secure a limited extension of the freeze has come under criticism, from among others former Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a television interview this week.

However spokesman Crowley defended the offer as a legitimate part of diplomacy, and said the Obama administration believes earnestly that a deal resuming the talks is in the interest of both Middle East parties.

U.S. officials have expressed hope that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators can reach a tentative agreement on the borders of a Palestinian state within the new 90-day freeze period that would largely render the issue of settlements moot.

It is widely expected that in an eventual peace accord, Israel would retain control of large settlement blocs in the West Bank and the Palestinians would be compensated by land swaps of territory now part of Israel proper.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has also been critical of the reported deal struck by the United States and Israel.

He told the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that he was not a party to the deal, and that attempts to renew negotiations should not be used, in his words, as a pretext to provide Israel with more weapons.

Israel has already contracted to buy 20 of the F-35 fighters, which have stealth capabilities and are to be the mainstay of the U.S. Air Force. News reports value the 20 additional planes to be provided under the Clinton-Netanyahu agreement at $3 billion.

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