Some of Israel’s best friends in Europe, such as Germany and the Netherlands, are urging Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to freeze construction across the Green Line as a way to bring the Palestinian Authority back to talks, western diplomatic officials told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday.

The idea, according to the officials, is for Israel to refrain “from provocative action” in order to pave the way for the Palestinians to accept the new Quartet proposals and get them back to the negotiating table.

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Netanyahu, in a Rosh Hashana interview with the Post last week, ruled out another settlement construction freeze, saying he tried that once, and “it didn’t help any.” Netanyahu froze settlement construction for 10 months beginning in November 2009.

The western officials added that the recent Interior Ministry decision to approve a new project of 1,100 housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, which is beyond the Green Line, will likely be mentioned negatively in a statement the EU’s 27 foreign ministers will release after their monthly meeting in Brussels on Monday.

According to the officials, discussions are currently underway in the Belgian capital among the various EU countries regarding how much prominence to give the Gilo project in that statement.

The ministers are widely expected to endorse the recent Quartet proposal for returning to talks, which was issued on September 23. Under the proposal, Israel and the Palestinians are supposed to sit down by October 23 for a preparatory meeting to agree on an agenda for negotiations.

The Quartet proposal calls on both parties at that meeting to commit to the objective of reaching an agreement no later then the end of 2012, to come up with concrete ideas on borders and security within 90 days, and to have made “substantial progress” within six months.

Envoys from the Quartet, made up of the US, EU, Russia and UN, are scheduled to meet Sunday in Brussels to review developments since it issued its call, and chart out its next moves.

While Israel formally accepted the Quartet formula, the Palestinian Authority – though saying the proposal contained “encouraging elements” – has not yet formally accepted it. PA spokesmen have said they would only enter talks if Israel froze settlement construction and accepted the pre-1967 lines as the baseline for negotiations.

Since the Interior Ministry approved the Gilo plan last Tuesday, a number of European countries have expressed their surprise and disappointment at the move to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry.

The western officials said that for some of the countries most supportive of Israel in the EU – the Czech Republic, Holland, Italy, Germany, Poland and Bulgaria – the move weakened their ability to defend Israel’s position inside the EU.

“It has led to the loss of a bit of trust,” one official said.

The officials also said there was annoyance in a number of capitals that, after having worked against the PA’s statehood recognition bid last month at the UN and oftentimes being criticized domestically because of that move, Israel “undermined” those efforts by announcing another project in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line.

This was the reason, the officials said, for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s testy phone call with Netanyahu over the weekend, saying that she could not comprehend the approval of the plan a day after the Quartet proposal was unveiled.
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