Global Politics

Middle East peace talks stalled

Early this week, US officials hailed Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for supporting a deal to restart peace talks with the Palestinians.

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Headlines in Israel said Netanyahu managed to sell the idea to his right-wing coalition government.

Then, nothing happened.

That's because the deal isn't done yet. The US and Israel are said to be haggling over the details.

The Obama administration is reportedly offering the Israelis two things it can't refuse. A batch of 20 F-35 stealth warplanes and a promise of US diplomatic support at the United Nations, where the Palestinians are threatening to seek recognition as an independent state.

What does Washington want from Netanyahu in return?

90 days. Three more months of building restrictions on most Israeli settlements.

Then � and this how the thinking in Washington is said to go � the Palestinians would return to the negotiating table and everyone can get to work on drawing a border.

If this is indeed the US plan, political scientist Reuven Hazan at Hebrew University said he's skeptical.

�The Israeli government today is made up of parties that will not support a major concession on borders,� Hazan said. �In other words, if within three months for some reason Netanyahu can actually come to an agreement on borders, the price is his government.�

That's a big price to pay, Hazan said, and Netanyahu has shown few signs of being willing to go that far.

Second, Hazan said he doubts the Palestinian president � Mahmoud Abbas is either willing or able to make concessions on borders himself, especially when his political rivals Hamas are in control of Gaza.

And third, Hazan added, there�s a question about the US president's commitment after the losses his party suffered in the mid-terms.

�How many people really think that now Obama is going to throw jobs, the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, everything away and focus on Israel?�

But Tamar Hermann of the Israel Democracy Institute is less skeptical. She said she thinks Washington is putting more on the table than what�s being reported right now.

�It looks like a generous offer, but I think that there is something in the suitcase which is even more expensive than those aircraft,� Hermann said.

What Herman thinks is in that suitcase is a map: A map that shows Israel keeping large settlements in the West Bank.

Netanyahu is promoting the US offer and that's a sign, Herman said, that the prime minister believes Israel is getting more out of the deal than just planes and diplomatic support.

She said Netanyahu is a leader who's mindful of his legacy and he potentially gets something out of he deal as well.

�He didn't change his basic views on the situation, but I think that he is willing to make some steps forward because he would like to be recognized as a ground-breaking leader,� Hermann said.

In a speech last night, Netanyahu said he has no doubt his fellow ministers will accept the US deal.

Israeli officials are said to be seeking a written pledge from Washington on the exact parameters of the proposed three-month settlement freeze.

Ministers are reportedly looking for specific assurances on building restrictions �or the lack thereof in East Jerusalem; and a commitment that this would be the last demand for a building freeze from Washington.

The Obama administration is keeping mum about what's being discussed. Meanwhile, the Israeli air force bombed the Gaza Strip today, where there reports of several injuries.

The strikes were in response to a two-day barrage of rocket and mortar fire from Gaza militants.

No injuries were reported after those strikes.

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