Nearly half of Israel supports Quartet call for Israeli settlement freeze

Two polls published in Israel today show 41-46 percent of Israelis back the Quartet's call for an Israeli settlement freeze in East Jerusalem – contrary to Netanyahu's claim of a consensus on the issue.

Gil Cohen Magen/Reuters
Palestinians pray in front of the Damascus gate in Jerusalem's Old city Friday. Israel restricted Palestinian access to Friday prayers in al-Aqsa Mosque in the city to men aged over 50 amid tensions over Israel's recently announced plan to build houses in East Jerusalem.
Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP
Quartet host Russia: From left, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, former British premier Tony Blair and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton enter a hall for talks in Moscow, Russia, Friday.

The Middle East quartet issued a call from Moscow today for an Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank as well as East Jerusalem, and backed a peace treaty by March 2012.

The joint statement from the European Union, the United Nations, Russia and the US, ratchets up diplomatic pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he tries to defuse what some have said is the worst dispute with Washington in decades. The statement said the group would "monitor closely'' Israeli construction in Jerusalem and condemned the 1,600 unit building project that upended Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel and sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two allies.

The call got a cold reception from the Israeli government. Within hours on Friday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman issued a blunt reply, accusing the Quartet of "ignoring'' Israeli efforts for peace over 16 years of negotiations, and of forcing an artificial timetable for the peace process, the Haaretz newspaper reported.

IN PICTURES: Israeli settlements

Nearly half of Israelis support settlement freeze in E. Jerusalem

However, two new opinion polls published in Israeli newspapers on Friday suggested that not all Israelis are rallying around the government despite assertions by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of broad Israeli support for building in East Jerusalem – an area Israel annexed after capturing it in the 1967 war, but which is considered illegally occupied by the United Nation's and most of the worlds states. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as a capital of a future state.

A poll by the daily Yediot Ahronot said that 46 percent of respondents support a construction freeze in East Jerusalem, while the figure from a poll commissioned by Haaretz found support for a freeze at 41 percent.

The Yediot poll found a statistical tie when it asked Israelis about whether Netanyahu or President Barack Obama is to blame for the current crisis. But when Haaretz asked about the US president's treatment Israel, a surprising 69 percent cast it in a positive light. Just over half said it was business-like, 21 percent said hostile, and 18 percent friendly.

Israelis views on Jerusalem differ from Netanyahu line

Netanyahu aides reportedly accused the US administration of inflating the crisis last week after Vice President Biden accepted the prime minister's apology. Netanyahu said the publication of the building project during the visit, which left indirect talks with the Palestinians in limbo, was a mistake.

The findings of the newspaper surveys reflect recognition among Israelis that, despite the annexation of East Jerusalem, Jerusalem remains a divided city, says Dahlia Sheindlin, an Israeli-American public opinion expert.

"This is the reality,'' says Ms. Sheindlin. "Israelis are aware of it because they don't go to East Jerusalem, and when they go there they feel like it’s a foreign country. If you catch someone in a rational frame of mind, they don't want to give away East Jerusalem, but they know that it's going to be under what they call 'Arab authority.' "

IN PICTURES: Israeli settlements

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