U.S. demand for East Jerusalem building freeze 'surprised' Netanyahu
Netanyahu: Israel rule over Jerusalem not up for discussion; PA: No peace unless Jerusalem is our capital.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he had been "surprised" by a recent U.S. demand that Israel halt a construction project in a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
"I was surprised by the U.S. move," the premier told his advisors. "In my conversation with [U.S. President Barack] Obama in Washington, I told him that I could not accept any limitations on our sovereignty in Jerusalem. I told him Jerusalem is not a settlement, and it has nothing to do with discussions on a freeze."
Netanyahu's comments came after both Israel Radio and Army Radio reported that the U.S. State Department summoned Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren over the weekend to advise him that the project, developed by American millionaire Irving Moskowitz, should not go ahead.
As of Sunday evening, the bureau has not received a response from U.S. officials to the report.
"I won't cave in on this matter," Netanyahu pledged Sunday during consultations at his bureau.
The prime minister added: "During my previous tenure I built thousands of housing units in the [East] Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, and I went against the world. Therefore, it is clear that in the present situation I will not cave in, all the more so since this is a matter of 20 housing units only."
Netanyahu: Israel rule over Jerusalem not up for discussion
Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu said Israel's sovereignty over Jerusalem was not a matter up for discussion.
Netanyahu told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting that Jerusalem is the united capital of Israel and that all citizens are allowed to purchase property in any part of the city they choose.
"Imagine what would happen if someone were to suggest Jews could not live in or purchase [property] in certain neighborhoods in London, New York, Paris or Rome," he said.
"The international community would certainly raise protest. Likewise, we cannot accept such a ruling on East Jerusalem," Netanyahu told ministers.
This is the policy of an open city, he said, and Israel would not accept a stance that counters that civil right.
"Israeli Arabs are not forbidden from buying houses in west Jerusalem and Jews must be granted the same right in the eastern part of the city," he added.
Netanyahu said that he had made this stance clear to U.S. President Barack Obama, declaring that the issue of construction in Jerusalem could not be linked to the discussion on settlements.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat denounced the Israeli response, saying Netanyahu understands that a peace agreement is impossible unless East Jerusalem is deemed the Palestinian capital.
Peace and settlement activity are diverging paths that can never meet, he said.
Speaking Sunday in New Delhi, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the administration was trying to reach an agreement with the Israelis on settlements. "The negotiations are intense. They are ongoing," she said.
'U.S. tells Israel to halt East Jerusalem building'
Moskowitz, an influential supporter of Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem, purchased the Shepherd Hotel in 1985 and plans to tear it down and build housing units in its place. The hotel is located near a government compound that includes several government ministries and the national police headquarters.
The approval, granted by the Jerusalem municipality earlier this month, allows for the construction of 20 apartments plus a three-level underground parking lot.
In response, Oren told the State Department that Israeli construction in East Jerusalem was no different than in any other part of the country.
Jerusalem could not be considered along the same lines as settlements, he said, adding that Israel would not accede to this demand.
The Jerusalem municipality issued a statement following the report, saying the purchase was legal and it had acted with full transparency in granting building permits.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy had no immediate comment.
PA fears U.S. will let Israel keep up settlement construction
Meanwhile, Palestinian officials said on Saturday they were worried the U.S. administration was close to an interim agreement with Israel on settlement construction.
According to information that has reached the Palestinian Authority, Israel will not completely halt construction in the settlements but will limit it drastically to the point of almost stopping it. In exchange, Arab countries will implement previously discussed concessions - among them, allowing Israeli planes to cross their airspace and opening diplomatic missions.
The PA will discuss this with U.S. special Middle East envoy George Mitchell in Ramallah this week.
Sources in the PA said that "half-solutions" are unacceptable and that Israel must completely stop construction in the settlements.
The Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam reported on Saturday that Mitchell is to inform PA President Mahmoud Abbas by phone that the U.S. administration has been unable to obtain Israel's consent to stop construction completely.
Senior Palestinian officials have been following ambiguous statements made by Clinton, who has hinted that an agreement with Israel is in the offing.
Senior officials say American assent to even limited Israeli construction in the settlements would once again damage the American position as an honest broker in the Middle East. U.S. President Barack Obama told American Jewish leaders last week that his clear position against settlements has strengthened his position as an honest broker with the Arabs.
Over the past few days, Abbas has reiterated concerns over continued construction in the settlements, saying he would not renew negotiations with Israel as long as such construction persisted. However, senior Palestinian officials said that soon after the Obama administration reaches an agreement with Israel and the Arab countries, it intends to renew negotiations on a final status agreement. If the PA refuses to join, as Abbas apparently articulated, it will appear to be obstructing the peace process.
In any case, the PA will probably seek to postpone talks until after the Sixth Fatah Congress and general elections, scheduled for August 4. Sources in the PA said talks between Hamas and Fatah, which were to resume between July 25-28, would probably be postponed until after the Fatah Congress opens in Bethlehem.