Israel's main opposition party said on Monday the government has quietly frozen approval of Jewish housing projects in East Jerusalem in a bid to heal a rift with Washington.
"I am talking about a fact. I checked it out. All of the work of the Jerusalem district planning committee has been frozen completely, except for the veteran neighbourhoods," legislator Roni Bar-On of the centrist Kadima party said in parliament.
He said he was using the term "veteran neighbourhoods" to refer to areas of Jerusalem that were under Israel's control before it captured the eastern part of the city, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in a 1967 war.
"Why don't you tell us the whole truth, Mr Prime Minister," Bar-On asked, calling a de facto freeze the right move to make to narrow differences with Washington over settlements and get peace talks, suspended since December 2008, under way.
The planning committee, an Interior Ministry body, embarrassed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month -- during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden -- when it approved construction of 1,600 homes for Jews in a part of Jerusalem that Israel annexed after the 1967 conflict.
Netanyahu has insisted publicly that he would not curb Jewish housing construction anywhere in Jerusalem, restrictions that could cause cracks within a governing coalition dominated by pro-settler parties, including his own Likud.
Asked about a de facto building freeze, Mark Regev, a spokesman for Netanyahu, said there had been no fundamental change in government policy on construction in Jerusalem.
"We have instituted a new mechanism which is being put in place so that we don't have mishaps as happened during the Biden visit," Regev said about a step Israel has already announced.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they intend to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel considers all of Jerusalem its capital, a claim that is not recognised internationally.
Palestinian sources said on Sunday that U.S. envoy George Mitchell proposed a compromise in which Palestine would begin indirect talks in return for an unwritten commitment by Washington to assign blame publicly to any party that took action compromising the negotiations.
ReutersLast Mod: 26 Nisan 2010, 20:57