Obama administration officials deny Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu came away from his marathon meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Nov. 11 with a pledged package of major incentives for a 90-day settlement construction freeze, debkafile's Jerusalem and Washington sources report.
The scale of US benefits as presented by the prime minister to Israel's security and foreign affairs cabinet Nov. 13 and the full cabinet Nov. 14 is described in Washington as misleading.
According to that briefing, Washington was prepared to leave Jerusalem out of Israel's second building moratorium on disputed territory and offered to let Israel have a second batch of 30 F-25 stealth warplanes free of charge, in addition to the first 20 Israel had already purchased.
Our US sources deny Clinton extended any such far-reaching benefits at their meeting and agreed to nothing beyond US political support and diplomatic guarantees.
To understand how this happened, debkafile offers a translation of the diplomatic language used by Clinton and Netanyahu:
1. When the US Secretary said Monday Nov. 15: "This is a very promising development and a serious effort by Prime Minister Netanyahu," she was egging him on to a "serious effort" to meet the American formula for picking up direct talks with the Palestinians. This meant including Jerusalem in the building moratorium and paying for the second lot of warplanes – just the opposite of the way the deal was presented by Netanyahu.
2. When she turned aside questions about putting the administration's pledges to Israel in writing with an offhand remark: "I can't get into details" – she was saying: Forget about getting a deal on those two items in writing.
3. When Friday, Nov. 19, the State Department spokesman said he had no idea when a written document would be prepared and handed to Israel, he was signaling Netanyahu to stop badgering the administration.
4. When the prime minister commented Thursday, Nov. 18, that when an "appropriate administration proposal" was delivered, he would put it before the security cabinet, he was saying that he stood by the omission of Jerusalem from a building moratorium and the supply of warplanes without charge, as his price for a three-month moratorium.
Netanyahu was pushed up against the wall by being caught out assuring the cabinet of more than he can deliver, a gambit he attempted for the sake of overcoming the objections of most of his ministers to a second building freeze in the hope that the Obama would be forthcoming after the event.
But then his deputy, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon, put a spoke in his wheel by demanding that the two major putative American incentives be put in writing before the ministers decide where they stand on the moratorium.
When pressed for answers, US officials are resorting to noncommittal diplomatic jargon to avoid stepping on Netanyahu's toes, while in Jerusalem the prime minister is fending offquestions by claiming that he is still bargaining hard with the US Secretary of State to obtain a written pledge for generous incentives.