JERUSALEM — Israeli defense officials urged the government Monday to accept a new U.S.-drafted deal to freeze Jewish settlement building temporarily in exchange for a $3 billion military package, including a U.S. gift of 20 F-35 stealth fighter jets.
But leading ministers in the Israeli Cabinet poured cold water on the proposal, and if it passes Sunday, it will be with a razor-thin majority.
At the same time, the Obama administration hinted that next year's deadline for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal could slip even if both sides quickly return to negotiations.
The State Department said the goal of reaching an agreement in one year's time may no longer be realistic because of a deadlock over Israeli settlements. That deadline was set when the talks began in September, but the negotiations quickly stalled on the settlement issue.
"It does remain our view that an agreement can be reached within a reasonable period of time," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters. "When the process started, we said this could be accomplished within 12 months."
Crowley added, "If we get to August 2011 and we need a little more time to get this done, we'll take that time."
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have praised the Israeli government for accepting the compromise, though Israel has yet to issue an official response to the deal.
"This is a very promising development and a serious effort by Israeli Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu," Clinton said Monday. "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."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the money for the 20 stealth fighters "will come from the American administration, not from us."
Israel already receives $3 billion in annual aid from the United States, much of which is spent on military equipment. Israel already had ordered 20 of the jets, which are capable of traveling long distances undetected by radar. Israeli news media suggested that the jets could be used on a stealth mission, such as an attack on Iran's alleged nuclear weapons.
The deal also requires the United States to support Israel's position at the United Nations, and, according to Israeli news reports, to block recognition of any unilateral Palestinian move to declare independence.
In exchange, Israel would halt construction of Jewish settlements for 90 days, excluding East Jerusalem, enabling it to continue to build in a place that Palestinians hope will be the capital of a new Palestinian state.
Three former army chiefs of staff endorsed the U.S. proposal as an imperative step with military advantages that Israel couldn't afford to reject.
However, members of Netanyahu's Likud Party joined other coalition members from the right-wing Shas and Israeli Beitenu parties to assault the deal. Some of the parties in Netanyahu's right-wing coalition vowed to fight any deal that would limit settlement construction.
Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon rejected the deal as a "honey trap," while other lawmakers said they would work to dismantle the government if the proposal were approved.
Information from the Associated Press and McClatchy Newspapers was used in this report.