Palestinians say no talks until housing project axed

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Palestinians will not enter into indirect peace talks with Israel until approval to build 1,600 homes in an eastern Jerusalem neighborhood is rescinded.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly made the decision Wednesday night. He was backed up on Thursday by statements from chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

"We want to hear from [United States envoy George] Mitchell that Israel has canceled the decision to build housing units before we start the negotiations," Erekat said, according to the German news agency DPA.

According to a statement issued Thursday by the Prime Minister’s Office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday summoned Interior Minister Eli Yishai and reprimanded him for the timing of the announcement of the approval of part of a building project in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Netanyahu said there was no need to advance the planning process this week and instructed Yishai to adopt procedures to prevent such an incident from recurring, according to the statement.

Netanyahu told Biden that the project has been moving through the planning stages for several years and that the beginning of actual construction will take several more years.

In his speech at Tel Aviv University Thursday morning, Biden addressed the issue and said he was pleased to understand that construction would not begin immediately, saying that "it gives the negotiations time to resolve this and several other outstanding issues."

Meanwhile, the Arab League announced Wednesday night that it would call a meeting of Arab foreign ministers to reconsider its support for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks agreed upon earlier this month. The league had approved four months of talks.

Jerusalem is not part of the 10-month West Bank construction freeze set by Netanyahu in late November.

Haaretz reported Thursday that there are about 50,000 housing units in Jerusalem neighborhoods over the Green Line that are moving through the planning and approval process, and that Jerusalem’s future construction plans will focus on eastern Jerusalem.
 

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