Sunday, November 21, 2010

Israel Rules out Freeze on East Jerusalem Building, Or Does It?

Jean-Luc Renaudie, Nov 10, Yhoo News

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel on Wednesday ruled out a freeze on the building of new settler homes in east Jerusalem, defying world powers who have warned the issue risks wrecking fragile peace talks with the Palestinians.

"There has never been a freeze on construction in Jerusalem and there never will be such a freeze -- that has been the policy of Israeli governments for 40 years," cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser told public radio.

Plans to build 1,300 settler homes in east Jerusalem gained media attention on Monday, during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's five-day trip to the United States to discuss renewal of direct peace talks with the Palestinians.

"It is inconceivable that there would be limitations on construction in areas where some 300,000 residents live," said Hauser, referring to around 10 Israeli settlement neighbourhoods located in occupied east Jerusalem.
Peace talks have been on hold since late September when a 10-month Israeli moratorium on West Bank settlement construction expired, with the Palestinians refusing to talk until the ban is reimposed.

Although the building freeze did not apply to east Jerusalem districts like Har Homa, Netanyahu had quietly held off approving projects there to avoid the political fallout.

"Construction will continue in Jerusalem just as it continues in Tel Aviv," said Hauser, who is also one of Netanyahu's spokesmen.

"The fact that we are building in Jerusalem has never stood in the way when there has been a real, sincere desire to make peace and reach agreements with Jordan, Egypt or the Palestinians," he added.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai, said that the argument was academic, as there was little chance that Har Homa and similar east Jerusalem residential areas would ever be ceded to Palestinian rule.

"Is someone going to hand over Har Homa, Gilo; is someone going to give back Neveh Yaakov and the rest," he said in an interview with public radio. "Even in those places that are going to be returned in some future peace process or other, they can be returned already built-up," he said.

The publication by a building contractor of statutory notice of the latest plans sparked international condemnation, led by US President Barack Obama. Netanyahu said the issue was being exaggerated by the media.

"That will be an issue that we'll discuss but I think it's overblown," he told Fox Business Network.

"You are talking about a handful of apartments that really don't affect the (peace) map at all, contrary to impressions that might be perceived from certain news reports. It's a minor issue that might be turned to a major issue."

The new project prompted a livid response from the Palestinians, who accused Israel of a bald-faced attempt to sabotage the US-brokered peace talks which ran aground three weeks after their restart on September 2.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat demanded that the world respond by recognising a Palestinian state.

"At the moment that we expected Prime Minister Netanyahu to announce a full settlement freeze ... he has sent Palestinians and the US administration a clear message that Israel chooses settlements, not peace," he said.

Meanwhile, a poll published on Wednesday showed that six out of 10 Palestinians -- 62 percent -- backed the Palestinian Authority position that there should be no resumption of negotiations without a fresh moratorium on settlement building.

The poll, conducted by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre (JMCC), surveyed 1,200 adults from across the West Bank and Gaza Strip in late October, and had a margin of error of three percent.

Israel seized east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it shortly afterwards in a move not recognised by the international community or the Palestinians, who consider it the capital of their promised state.

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