The United States is asking Israel to take steps to restore confidence in the Mideast peace process after Israel's controversial announcement last week on new Jewish housing in East Jerusalem. U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell is expected to visit the region this week.
A senior State Department official says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has asked Israel to act to restore confidence in U.S.-led peace efforts in the region, which were upset by last week's housing decision.
Israel announced last week that it is building 1,600 new Jewish housing units in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as the capital of their envisaged state.
The announcement, during an Israel visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, prompted an angry American response, including a telephone complaint to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by Secretary of State Clinton, who said the move undermined U.S. regional interests and trust in the peace process.
The senior State Department official, who spoke to reporters on terms of anonymity, said the United States wants Israel to rescind the housing decision or take alternate steps to "show its level of commitment to the peace process."
While expressing regret over the timing of Israel's announcement, Mr. Netanyahu has defended his government's housing policy in East Jerusalem, which Israel says is part of its indivisible capital.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States is awaiting Israel's response to Clinton's request.
"She did outline for Prime Minister Netanyahu some specific things that we wanted to see from the Israeli government," said P.J. Crowley. "I'm not going to go into the specific detail. They involve not only specifics about the project that was announced last week, but really more so about the willingness of the parties to engage seriously in this process and jointly create conditions for its success."
Crowley said the United States is also concerned about what he said was anti-Israeli incitement by some Palestinians over Israel's rededication this week of a historic synagogue in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem's old city.
"We're deeply disturbed by statements made by several Palestinian officials mischaracterizing the event in question, which can only serve to heighten the tensions that we see," he said. "And we call upon Palestinian officials to put an end to such incitement."
Crowley said U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell plans to visit the region this week, despite the differences with Israel, although he suggested that a final decision to go might depend on Israel's reply to Clinton.
He added that Mitchell will join Clinton late this week for a meeting in Moscow of the international diplomatic "quartet" on the Middle East that consists of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.
Last Friday, the quartet issued a statement condemning Israel's housing decision and saying that unilateral actions by either party that prejudge the outcome of negotiations will not be recognized by the international community.