An Israeli official Sunday denied reports that Israel has agreed to halt a controversial east Jerusalem construction project ahead of the launch of US-brokered indirect talks with the Palestinians.
AFP - One day after the formal launch of peace talks, Israel insisted on Monday it had no plan to halt construction of settler homes in east Jerusalem, a major hurdle in peace efforts with the Palestinians.
"It is evident we will continue to build over the next two years in Gilo, Pisgat Zeev, French Hill," Information Minister Yuli Edelstein told public radio in reference to Jewish settlements in annexed Arab east Jerusalem.
"Talks barely got off the ground before they reached a snag"
He did admit that a controversial plan to build 1,600 new homes in Ramat Shlomo, also in east Jerusalem, would not start for another two years, but stressed this followed normal planning procedures.
Announcing the start of indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians on Sunday, Washington cited the delay in the east Jerusalem settlement as a confidence-building measure.
"Both parties are taking some steps to help create an atmosphere that is conducive to successful talks, including president (Mahmud) Abbas's statement that he will work against incitement of any sort and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement that there will be no construction at the Ramat Shlomo project for two years," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.
Underscoring the deep mistrust between Israel and the Palestinians, he cautioned both sides they would be held accountable if they did anything to "seriously undermine trust."
Israel promptly stressed in a statement that building and planning in Jerusalem will continue as usual, "exactly as has been the case for the past 43 years" and insisted it had not undertaken to freeze the Ramat Shlomo project.
The Palestinians quickly accused Israel of trying to undermine the process.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, for his part, insisted the municipality "continues to promote planning and construction throughout the city for all its residents -- Jews, Christians and Muslims."
"We trust that the prime minister will not allow a freeze in Jerusalem, not in words and not in actions," he said.
Right-wing parties accused Netanyahu of betraying his electorate.
"The announcement from the US that Netanyahu promised to freeze the Ramat Shlomo building for two years proves that Netanyahu lied and continues to deceive his supporters by announcing that building will continue in Jerusalem," lawmaker Aryeh Eldad of the hawkish Jewish Home party said.
Jerusalem and Jewish settlements are among the thorniest issues in efforts to achieve a peace deal.
Israel, which captured east Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it, considers the Holy City its "eternal and indivisible" capital, while the Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their promised state.
The so-called proximity talks were originally due to start in March but the Palestinians withdrew after Israel publicised the Ramat Shlomo building plan.
The Palestinians eventually agreed to hold the talks after receiving US assurances that the Jerusalem settlement expansion plan would be frozen.
The two sides had held just over a year of direct negotiations, after a seven-year hiatus, but those collapsed in December 2008 with little to show.
Meanwhile, an Israeli settlement watchdog group warned that the increase in Jewish settlement activity in east Jerusalem is likely to torpedo any chance of finding a two-state solution under which a viable Palestinian state would be created alongside Israel.
"The intensification of settlement activities in east Jerusalem threatens the chances of implementing the two-state solution and might create an irreversible situation that would prevent a compromise in Jerusalem," Peace Now said.
Date created : 2010-05-10