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Liberman: Israel will keep building in East Jerusalem

Foreign minister says construction in capital is not settlement activity; thanks German counterpart for ‘balanced approach’

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, right, shakes hands with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, January13 , 2014 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, right, shakes hands with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, January13 , 2014 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told his German counterpart Sunday that Israel will not put restrictions on building in East Jerusalem and criticized attempts to link Israel-EU relations with the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

“We will never accept the definition of building in Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem as settlement activity,” he said, according to a statement from the Foreign Ministry. “We will not accept any restrictions on construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem.”

Referring to an upcoming meeting of EU foreign ministers scheduled for later this week, Liberman warned that linking Israel-EU relations with the peace process “does not contribute to stability, normalization or strengthening ties between Israel and the Palestinians.”

However, he also thanked German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier during their meeting for Germany’s “balanced and responsible approach” to the conflict in the region, especially between Israel and the Palestinians.

Steinmeier urged both sides to refrain from taking actions that would jeopardize the already-stalled peace process, asserting that there would be no chance of restoring calm without it.

Liberman and Steinmeier met under the cloud of simmering tensions in the Israeli capital, which has seen near daily violence for much of the past five months.

During that time, Israel has announced a number of new housing construction plans in Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem that have enraged Palestinians, who aspire to have East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

On Saturday in a meeting with Steinmeier, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas criticized  the “dangerous escalation by the Israeli government in Jerusalem.”

Steinmeier, who held talks in the West Bank town of Ramallah with Abbas and is to meet Netanyahu Sunday afternoon, said a return to the negotiating table was the only way forward.

“At present, there is no room or the necessary conditions for a resumption of negotiations, and the main thing for now is to ease tensions,” he said.

Abbas and Steinmeier both called for Israel to lift restrictions on Muslim access to the Temple Mount following clashes between police and Palestinians on the sensitive site, according to the official Palestinian Wafa news agency.

On Friday, Israel ended weeks-old age restrictions on Muslim worshipers at the Temple Mount, which had been instituted in the wake of violence and rioting at the site.

Liberman expressed delight at the lack of riots on the Temple Mount over the weekend following the move.

The Temple Mount has been another source of tension in Jerusalem as Palestinians have accused Israel of trying to “Judaize” the compound, which is the holiest site to Jews and houses the Dome of the Rock, Islam’s third-holiest site, and al-Aqsa Mosque.

Last month, a Palestinian man with connections to the Islamic Jihad terrorist group attempted to assassinate Yehudah Glick, a well-known Jewish activist who sought to change the status quo on the Temple Mount which does not allow Jews to pray at the site.

Netanyahu has pledged to maintain the status quo several times, including at the cabinet meeting Sunday.

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