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After escaping flotilla uproar, Israel faces new flap over Jerusalem

A Jerusalem municipal council approved plans to install a tourist park in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, which calls for demolishing 22 Palestinian homes. The US warned that the plan threatens Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

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Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Israel of wrecking peace negotiations and called on the international community to stop the "dangerous'' Israeli steps, while US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley warned against unilateral decision that would prejudice peace talks on the final status of Jerusalem. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Netanyahu sought to distance themselves from the Jerusalem municipal decision.

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"The purpose was not for planning, it was political,'' says council member Pepe Alalo, who lost his title as deputy mayor for opposing the decision. "I don't think that Netanyahu gave this approval. [Mayor] Barkat is trying to outflank Netanyahu on the right.''

De facto building moratorium in East Jerusalem

Indeed, there are signs of a de facto building moratorium in East Jerusalem, an indication of an understanding between Israel and the US since Vice President Biden's ill-fated visit, according to Alalo and Javedanfar.

"There's an unwritten agreement that some frustrated Israeli officials will make bombastic remarks, America will condemn them, but in reality nothing will happen on the ground in East Jerusalem and West Bank,'' says Javedanfar.

A Western diplomat said that although the move stirred concern because Jerusalem is always a sensitive issue, there is a recognition abroad that Netanyahu and Barkat are not on the same page on this issue.

A spokesman for the mayor, Stephan Miller, argues that the plan will "protect'' the residents from becoming homeless by legalizing 66 of 88 illegally built Palestinian homes.

Danny Seidman, an activist for Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem, argued that even though the decision itself will have little impact on the ground, it demonstrates "benign neglect'' on the part of the Israeli government that will ultimately undermine the fledgling peace negotiations.

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