U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the second time in two weeks to express disapproval over plans for new construction in East Jerusalem or West Bank settlements.
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U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry spoke with Netanyahu on Thursday and expressed concern about the announcement of plans to expand building in areas of the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ramot and Gilo, which are beyond the Green Line.
Kerry “raised this issue as part of a broader conversation about the ongoing desire to move back to the negotiating table,” Psaki said. “This is a case where we feel these activities are counterproductive to the cause of peace.”
Last week, Israel’s Channel 10 news reported that the government had solicited bids for the construction of 300 homes in Ramot, beyond the Green Line. The report also referenced a Housing and Construction Ministry document indicating a decision to commence marketing 797 residential units in a neighborhood identified as Moradot Gilo, also located beyond the Green Line.
Palestinian officials blasted Israel for issuing the tender, which they said was aimed at sabotaging the Obama administration’s efforts to renew the peace process. Senior Israeli officials responded with accusations of their own, saying the Palestinians continue to invent excuses in order to evade negotiations with Israel.
Aides to Netanyahu claimed the plans for the homes mentioned in the Channel 10 report were not new. The officials said they had been announced eight months ago and that the current announcement was due to a technical issue requiring a second publication of the tender.
On May 16 Kerry called Netanyahu to voice protest over the government’s plan to legalize four unauthorized West Bank outposts. The secretary of state stressed that the move undermines his efforts to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and asked Jerusalem to reconsider its decision.
At this point, no breakthrough regarding the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian talks seems to be in the works.
Sunday night Kerry is scheduled to address the American Jewish Committee Global Forum in Washington, where he is expected to speak at length about the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is also in charge of overseeing Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians, is also scheduled to attend the AJC conference. She is scheduled to arrive in Washington Sunday, where she is expected to meet with Kerry in an effort to hammer out a formula that would allow for the renewal of talks.
Palestinian officials are very pessimistic about the chances of renewing the talks, and are getting ready to renew their unilateral measures in the United Nations. The Palestinian leadership gave Kerry a June 7 deadline for presenting a plan to renew the talks with Israel.
European diplomats note, however, that Kerry is expected to present his own plan on June 15 or 16. Kerry hopes to allocate a few months for Israeli-Palestinian talks over borders and security arrangements.
On Friday morning Kerry also spoke with Mahmoud Abbas, urging the Palestinian president to go back to the negotiating table with Israel. According to the official Palestinian news agency, Abbas told Kerry that the renewal of negotiations must be in accordance with clear terms of reference. Israel must release Palestinian political prisoners and must also halt building in the settlements, Abbas emphasized to Kerry.
The Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam reported Saturday that Abbas briefed members of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee on Kerry’s report that Israel was unwilling to halt settlement building or to conduct talks on the basis of the 1967 borders, and was unwilling even to discuss Jerusalem in the framework of the negotiations.
Al-Ayyam quoted Palestinian officials as saying Abbas is being pressured into resuming negotiations with Netanyahu despite the lack of an Israeli pledge to freeze settlement activity or accept negotiations based on a state within 1967 borders.
Abbas stressed that “there is no solution without Jerusalem; prisoners must be released and settlement construction stopped,” Al-Ayyam reported.