Despite rejecting US calls for extending a partial settlement freeze on the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel is still looking to acquire another 20 US-built F-35 fighter jets free of charge.
Earlier in November, the United States offered Israel a package of incentives in return for stopping the expansion of Jewish settlements for 90 days in the occupied West Bank.
The offer included providing Israel with another 20 radar-evading Joint Strike Fighter jets worth USD 3 billion, vetoing or opposing any initiatives at the UN Security Council critical of Israel, and signing a comprehensive security agreement with Israel.
It was aimed at saving the new round of direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel.
Despite speculations that Israel’s refusal to renew its partial settlement freeze has effectively taken the package of incentives offered by the US off the table, media reports suggest that Tel Aviv is still exploring ways to acquire an extra 20 stealth fighters.
Earlier in August, the US agreed to sell Israel 20 radar-evading Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets for more than USD 3 billion. The systems were due to be delivered by approximately 2016.
The deal made Israel the first buyer outside the aircraft’s nine-nation co-development group.
"We ordered 20 F-35s, then, during the talks about freeze, the Americans put 20 additional plane on the table,” a senior Israeli official told AFP on Wednesday, adding that Tel Aviv is not willing to pay for the additional 20 jets and is "trying to find another arrangement."
"It was discussed during the summer when the United States was talking about the USD 60 billion weapons deal with Saudi, in the context of the American policy of maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge. But nothing was settled. We will continue to discuss it", he added.
The new round of direct negotiations between Israel and the PA started in Washington in September after a 20-month hiatus.
However, the talks reached a deadlock shortly after re-launch over Tel Aviv’s refusal to meet the Palestinian side’s demand for extending the partial settlement freeze in the West Bank. Israel resumed its illegal construction work hours after the expiry of the 10-month moratorium.
Palestinians believe that the expansion of Jewish settlements on the occupied lands will reduce the likelihood of the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.