Housing Min. rejects Rice warning against E. J'lem construction
Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat appeals to U.S. to compel Israel to halt W. Bank settlement expansion.
Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim rejected on Saturday the warnings of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who said Israel's plan to build 300 housing units in the East Jerualem neighborhood of Har Homa could jeopardize U.S.-backed peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
"Secretary of State Rice should be blessed for her efforts in the relaunching of the peace process," Boim said, "but it cannot be that on every occasion this [peace process] will be tied together with the cessation of construction in Jerusalem."
"The Har Homa neighborhood is situated within Jerusalem's municipal borders where Israeli law applies," Boim added. "Therefore, there is nothing preventing the construction there, just as there is nothing preventing construction anywhere else in Israel."
Jordan's Minister for Information, Nasser Judeh, on Thursday slammed the plan to build the new housing units at Har Homa, known as Jabal Abu Ghunaim by the Palestinians, saying he considered the move "detrimental" to peace and "contrary to international law."
Meanwhile Saturday, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat appealed to the United States to compel Israel to halt the expansion of settlements in the West Bank as dictated by the road map peace plan.
"We loudly ask the U.S. administration to act as the judge and compel Israel to implement its commitments which the Road Map plan specified," Erekat told Voice of Palestine radio.
The first phase of the road map calls on Israel to freeze settlement activities and the natural growth of the settlements.
Erekat pointed out that the tender for the Har Homa construction came about one week after the end of a U.S.-hosted conference in Annapolis, Maryland, which set December 12 as the date for Israel and the PA to start negotiating a lasting solution.
"If Israel went on, this will destroy all the efforts that aim at launching a meaningful peace process leading to ending the Israeli occupation which started in the 1967," Erekat added.
On Friday, Rice warned Israel that the construction plan threatened U.S.-backed efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians, saying "we are in a time when the goal is to build maximum confidence with the parties and this doesn't help to build confidence."
"There should not be anything which might prejudge final-status negotiations," Rice said after talks with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on the sidelines of a NATO meeting of foreign ministers.
"It's even more important now that we are on the eve of the beginning of the negotiations. I made that position clear," she told a news conference.
Haaretz reported on Friday that the U.S. has requested that Israel provide clarifications on the building plan.
Palestinian leaders have said the plan undermines the peace process, aimed at reviving talks that had been dormant for seven years.
But Israel has said it does not consider the site, known as Abu Ghneim by Palestinians, as part of the West Bank territory the Palestinians want for a state.
The Palestinians demand East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, for their future capital. Israel annexed the area after the war.
Mubarak calls on U.S. to pressure Israel for sake of peaceEgyptian President Hosni Mubarak told Egyptian media Thursday that the United States must put pressure on Israel in order to advance the peace process.
Mubarak, who is visiting Athens, also said that Egypt hopes that positive results will come out of last month's Annapolis conference, noting U.S. President George W. Bush's expected visit to Israel in January.
The Egyptian president said Israel must act "with courage" and make decisions, calling Israel to show a willingness to make concessions during negotiations.
He called on the Palestinians to "unify their stance" and end differences of opinion between them.
Also, Thursday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit criticized Israel for the government's plan to expand Har Homa. In an article published in Egypt's "Al-Ahram" newspaper, it was reported that Aboul Gheit was "astounded" by reports of Israel's intention to publish a building tender for new construction in the neighborhood.