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Clinton call to Netanyahu: Israel settlement move a 'deeply negative signal'

Underscoring tensions over the Israel settlement issue, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strongly criticized an ill-timed announcement of 1,600 new housing units in a call to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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In addition to the 1,600 units announced this week for ultra-Orthodox families in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, the Israeli government has plans for a total of 50,000 more housing units in east Jerusalem in the coming years, Haaretz reported this week.

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Israeli parliament speaker: We must say clearly we won't compromise

The building plans outrage the Palestinians who see Israel's building over the Green Line in Jerusalem as a plan to block any compromise in Jerusalem. Israel's government considers the city, which was united in 1967 after 18 years of divided rule, part of the "eternal capital'' of the Jewish state.

Israeli Parliament Speaker Reuven Rivlin said that Israel should be honest with the Palestinians and the US that it will not compromise: "We must say clearly and put it on the table. You can't talk about peace if Jerusalem is divided."

The drama is playing out at flash points around the city. In the past three weeks, Palestinians and police have clashed several times on the Temple Mount complex. The location that includes both Judaism's holiest site and Islam's third holiest threatens to turn a political dispute into a holy war.

'An affront to the US'

Outside of the Old City and in Palestinian neighborhoods, there were isolated instances Friday of Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli police. In addition to the building projects, Palestinians are upset by attempts of right-wing Jewish Israelis to buy up property in their neighborhoods. In the Jerusalem village of Silwan, the municipality wants to destroy about 90 Palestinian homes – allegedly built without permits – and turn the neighborhood into a park and tourist commercial center. The plan has stirred opposition from Palestinians.

Scott Lasensky, a Middle East Expert at the US Institute for Peace, says that Washington must ignite a public debate on the future of Jerusalem with high-profile diplomacy, while lowering the profile of isolated battles like the housing project.

"The principal challenge for the US today, at the diplomatic level, is to quickly move forward in the negotiations, put ideas on the table, and get a serious debate going on both sides about what a two-state solution might look like,'' he said in an email. "The unfortunate events of the past week, which are widely viewed in Washington as an affront to the United States, can be dealt with most effectively through private channels.''