Israel rejects Obama's call for building halt in East Jerusalem

Further complicating peace talks as White House envoy George Mitchell arrives in Israel today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Barack Obama's call for a building halt in East Jerusalem.

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    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in his Jerusalem office, Sunday. He rejected a call by US President Barack Obama to halt new construction in East Jerusalem, his aides confirmed Thursday.
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a call by US President Barack Obama to halt new construction in East Jerusalem, his aides confirmed Thursday. The rejection, which was delivered privately over the weekend, appeared likely to further complicate American efforts to broker a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

Both sides lay claim to the holy city, and Israel does not consider building there to be a settlement activity.The international community does not view East Jerusalem as legally Israel's.

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Israel's announcement last month of a plan to construct 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem – which Israel seized from Jordan in the 1967 war – ruffled visiting US Vice President Joe Biden and threw planned peace talks off track. Obama’s Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, was set to touch down in Israel later today to try to reanimate them, The Associated Press reports.

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Proposals [in past negotiations] have included a release of some of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails and the removal of some of the roadblocks hindering the movement of Palestinian people and goods in the West Bank.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called the Netanyahu position "very unfortunate" and said he hoped the US "will be able to convince the Israeli government to give peace a chance by halting settlement construction in east Jerusalem and elsewhere."

Mr. Netanyahu late last year agreed to a temporary freeze on settlements in the West Bank, hoping to kick-start talks with the Palestinians, and last month polls showed half of Israel supports that – in addition to a freeze in Jerusalem. Those results went against the prime minister’s claim of broad support for building in the eastern part of the capital, says The Christian Science Monitor.

Also Thursday, in a letter to the chair of a group representing American Jewish organizations, Obama said any tension that has been created between Israel and the US will be resolved, reports The Jerusalem Post.

In a letter from Obama to Alan Solow, Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the President wrote that his administration is committed to "special relationship with Israel and that will not change.

"Our countries are bound together by shared values, deep and interwoven connections, and mutual interests," he added. "Many of the same forces that threaten Israel also threaten the United States and our efforts to secure peace and stability in the Middle East. Our alliance with Israel serves our national security interests.”

But on Wednesday, US National Security Advisor James Jones said he was “disappointed” that Israelis and Palestinians have not made progress in peace talks, and that it was time “to put an end to excuses.”

Reiterating the White House’s support for a two-state solution, he also said that peace in the region – particularly between Israel and Syria – would help keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, reports Israel’s Ynet News. Mr. Jones said the settlement conflict, however, was allowing Iran to divert attention from its nuclear program, Reuters reported.

Mr. Jones also said that "in our pursuit of a two-state solution, we recognize that peace must be made by the parties and cannot be imposed from the outside." However, a recent poll showed that Palestinian support for a two-state solution is declining as Israel continues building in East Jerusalem, the Monitor reported last month.

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IN PICTURES: Israeli settlements

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