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Israel Tries to Defuse Crisis with US

  • Luis Ramirez

Israeli officials say their government is trying to work out ways to defuse a growing dispute with the United States after Israel approved Jewish settlement construction in disputed East Jerusalem. But there is no hint Israeli officials are considering any concessions to Washington.

Israel's approval of plans to build 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem has triggered what some Israeli officials are calling the worst crisis between their government and the United States in decades.

Newspapers are quoting unidentified officials as saying Washington is pressing Israel to cancel plans for the building of Jewish housing in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of their future state.

Obama administration officials say Israel's announcement of the decision was insulting, as it came during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Israel said it regretted the timing of the announcement, but not the substance. Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave no indication that his government intends to reverse the decision. He spoke to the visiting President of Brazil in front of Israeli lawmakers.

The Israeli leader said Israel has been building in mostly Arab East Jerusalem for the past 40 years and no Israeli leader during that time has stopped it. Mr. Netanyahu said building Jewish neighborhoods on the land, in his words, in no way has hurt the Arabs of East Jerusalem, and he said the construction did not come at their expense.

Palestinian leaders are repeating their warning they might not start indirect peace negotiations, as they earlier agreed to do, as long as Israel does not cancel its building plans.

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) senior official Yasser Abed Rabbo spoke on Palestinian radio and accused the Israelis of being insincere.

He said he sees no guarantee for the United States that the Israeli government is seriously interested in continuing the peace process. He said the approval of new construction in East Jerusalem is the latest in what he called a series of incidents that show Israel is not serious about starting peace talks.

Among right-wing factions within Prime Minister Netanyahu's governing coalition, there are calls for Israel not to give in to U.S. pressure to stop settlement construction in East Jerusalem and other lands occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

At Ramat Shlomo, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish East Jerusalem settlement where Israel approved the 1,600 new homes, residents like this woman are angered by Washington's efforts to stop settlement expansion.

She said Israelis should not ask permission from anyone to live in a place they consider their own. She said they should not have to ask permission to expand their homes, and should not be criticized for doing it.

U.S. special envoy George Mitchell is due back in the region this week in hopes of rescuing plans for indirect talks.