2 parties threaten to leave coalition over construction

JERUSALEM, Feb. 11 (JTA) — Facing growing pressure from within his governing coalition, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is promising to approve construction of Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem. But, in an important qualification of the promise, he added that the construction, hotly opposed by the Palestinians, would have to begin at the appropriate time. On Tuesday, prior to leaving for meetings with President Clinton and other top American officials in Washington, Netanyahu met with coalition leaders who have been demanding in a growing chorus that he clarify his position on the construction. Members of the Third Way Party and National Religious Party said this week that they would consider leaving the coalition if planned construction projects did not begin in the Jewish neighborhoods of Har Homa and Ras el-Amud. Third Way Knesset member Emanuel Zismann said his party was giving Netanyahu two to three weeks to take action after he returns from Washington. Netanyahu’s Cabinet decided last year to lift the previous Labor government’s freeze on building in the territories. But some coalition members have complained that nothing was happening on the ground. “We wanted the prime minister to clarify his position before he went to the United States, so that he won’t come back after and say, `Hey, we didn’t approve that,’ ” said Avraham Stern of the National Religious Party. “We’ve been down that road before.” Participants at Tuesday’s meeting were less than pleased with Netanyahu’s statement that the construction would have to wait for the appropriate timing. “If we had expected to get an exact date from the prime minister before he left, then no, we did not get that,” said Deputy Education Minister Moshe Peled, of the Tsomet Party. Palestinian officials have strongly opposed the construction, saying it would change the status quo in Jerusalem, whose future is to be decided in the final-status negotiations.

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