Israel Silent on Obama's Four-Month Building Freeze in East Jerusalem

Article excerpt

Officials in Israel refused to comment on a plan floated by the Obama administration for a four-month building freeze in East Jerusalem, according to a report in Haaretz. Analysts say the plan won't fly with Netanyahu's conservative coalition partners.

President Barack Obama asked Israel to agree to put a four-month freeze on plans to pursue controversial construction projects in East Jerusalem, in return for enabling direct Israel-Palestinian peace talks to start, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Wednesday.

The paper quoted an unnamed official in Jerusalem. Officials at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv were unavailable for comment.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the prime minister's office had no comment on the proposal and could not confirm its veracity. "We won't we won't talk about it unless they do first," said spokesman Mark Regev.

IN PICTURES: Israeli settlements

Nonetheless, such a request fits in with Mr. Obama's outlook in the standoff between Jerusalem and Washington, which has been simmering since the visit here earlier this month of Vice President Joe Biden. In the middle of Mr. Biden's visit, a member of Mr. Netanyahu's cabinet announced the construction of 1,600 new housing units as part of plans to expand a Jewish housing development called Ramat Shlomo in an otherwise Arab area of East Jerusalem. And, during Netanyahu's visit to Washington last week, the Jerusalem municipality gave authorization for 200 homes for Jews in Sheikh Jarrah, also in East Jerusalem.

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A four-month freeze would be in sync with guidelines set by the Arab League, which declared its support last week for talks between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel for four months only, in a move meant to convey that peace was a limited-time offer. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said that he would not agree to talks with Israel until it declares a settlement freeze not just in the West Bank, but in East Jerusalem as well. …