Report: US, EU pressing for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks

Senior official in Ramallah says Western diplomats pushing for urgent meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, September 15, 2010 (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, September 15, 2010 (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

A senior Palestinian official claimed Saturday that the US and the European Union were urging the Palestinian Authority to resume peace negotiations with Israel, according to a report in the London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stated that Western diplomats had proposed to organize an urgent meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, either in a European country or in Washington.

The Palestinian official’s claims were not confirmed by Israel or the PA, according to Israel Radio.

Washington on Thursday called Israel’s approval of building 900 apartment units in a Jewish neighborhood of East Jerusalem “damaging and inconsistent” with its commitment to a two-state solution. The condemnation of the move by the State Department came less than a day after Netanyahu announced the formation of a new governing coalition.

“This is a disappointing development, and we’re concerned about it just as a new Israeli government has been announced,” US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said at a press briefing. “Israel’s leaders have asserted that they remain committed to a two-state solution, and we need to see that commitment in the actions of… the Israeli government.”

Rathke said that the US government would “continue to make our position clear that we view this as illegitimate.”

The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee on Wednesday approved the commencement of building 900 of 1,800 apartment units slated for the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, situated over the Green Line in East Jerusalem.

Plans to build 1,600 homes in Ramat Shlomo were first announced in 2010 while US Vice President Joe Biden was visiting the country. The announcement provoked fierce American opposition and triggered a diplomatic spat with Washington for months.

The new homes will be built in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, Peace Now spokeswoman Hagit Ofran told AFP.

Israel effectively annexed East Jerusalem after capturing it in 1967 and says it retains the right to build in any part of the capital, though housing announcements often draw international and Palestinian condemnations.

In early October, Washington leveled especially harsh criticism at Jerusalem for a plan to develop a new neighborhood in the area of Givat Hamatos on the southern end of the city, saying the East Jerusalem construction would “poison the atmosphere” and distance Israel “from even its closest allies.”

President Barack Obama’s administration has had a cold relationship with Netanyahu, notably over strategies for thwarting Iran’s nuclear drive and over the Palestinian conflict, including continued Israeli construction over the Green Line, which the international community views as a major obstacle to peace with the Palestinians.

In his reelection campaign in March, Netanyahu vowed to step up construction in East Jerusalem, insisting on the right to build anywhere in the Israeli capital.

AFP contributed to this report.

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