Is Israel willing to freeze East Jerusalem construction?
As US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell arrived in Israel on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted there will be no halt to settlement building in East Jerusalem, even as a far right political ally hinted at some flexibility over a freeze.
(Page 2 of 2)
"Senator Mitchell will continue to make trips out here as we make efforts to move the proximity talks forward," says Kurt Hoyer, a spokesman for the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. Mr. Hoyer said that Mitchell would meet on Friday with both Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and would conclude his visit on Sunday.Skip to next paragraph
Also Thursday, one of Israel's largest papers, Ma'ariv, reported that the spiritual leader of the Shas party, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, believes that Israel can afford to suspend construction in Jerusalem if it would help preserve the US-Israel relationship. The influential rabbi's remarks, reportedly made in a conversation with Israeli President Shimon Peres, were considered significant because the Shas party is one of Netanyahu's key coalition partners, and Shas ministers in Netanyahu's cabinet have been the most insistent about continuing to build in East Jerusalem.
Despite that, Bar-Ilan University political analyst Shmuel Sandler says it is unlikely that Netanyahu will attempt to spend the political capital necessary to declare a freeze in Jerusalem. Beyond Shas, other heavyweights in his cabinet – such as Foreign Minster Avigdor Lieberman – also oppose a compromise on building in Jerusalem. Mr. Lieberman made his opinion clear in comments to diplomats earlier this week.
"If Netanyahu declares a freeze in Jerusalem, it's the end of him," says Prof. Sandler. "It was surprising, what Ovadiah Yosef said, but perhaps it comes from a motivation of not being seen as the one who's stopping Netanyahu from making a deal. Any way you look at it, Netanayahu is not in a comfortable position domestically.
I don't think he can do more than he's done: he's already declared a West Bank settlement freeze that expires in September. And that means time for Obama to get the sides to reach a deal is limited, because after September there will be US Congressional elections, and at that time, he won't be able to pressure Israel too much."
- Mitchell gets earful from Mideast
- Opinion: George Mitchell and the end of the two-state solution
- In Israel, Mitchell presses on with patience honed in N. Ireland