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Bibi calms Israelis following Clinton upbraiding

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the Israeli public to "not get carried away" following harsh words from the U.S. secretary of state over plans to build new housing in eastern Jerusalem.

"We look at this morning’s newspapers and read all kinds of comments and analyses," Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday’s Cabinet meeting. "First of all, I suggest that we not get carried away — and that we calm down.

"We know how to deal with these situations — with equanimity, responsibly and seriously. There was a regrettable incident that was done in all innocence and was hurtful, and which certainly should not have occurred."

Netanyahu also appointed a committee to study the chain of events leading up to last week’s announcement of the approval of 1,6000 housing units in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

The committee also will establish guidelines for ministries and municipalities to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the incident "an insult to the United States."

Her statement last Friday came after she scolded Netanyahu in a 43-minute telephone conversation that morning for the housing announcement incident.

Clinton told CNN later in the day that U.S.-Israeli relations were not at risk over the incident.

Also Friday, the U.S. State Department summoned Israel’s U.S. Ambassador Michael Oren for a meeting with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who reprimanded Oren and criticized Israel’s actions. Steinberg called on Israel to take steps to gain the Palestinians’ trust so that U.S. special Mideast envoy George Mitchell could begin indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Netanyahu had apologized to Biden for the incident on Thursday, and the vice president accepted the apology.

The Palestinian Authority reportedly has said that it will not resume any kind of talks with Israel, including the agreed-upon proximity talks, unless Mitchell brings a promise that Israel will cancel the housing plan for eastern Jerusalem. 

Jerusalem is not part of the 10-month West Bank building freeze set by Netanyahu at the end of November. Netanyahu has decried the timing of the announcement of the Ramat Shlomo approval, but has not said that they should be canceled.

Final approval reportedly will take another year and building will not commence for several years, according to reports. 

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