Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s new government has not authorized a single
new building project in the West Bank during its first 100 days in office, an
Israeli official said Wednesday. The statement came on the eve of US Secretary
of State John Kerry’s meeting Thursday night with Netanyahu.
“We want to
see the resumption of the negotiations,” the official said. “We want to see
Kerry succeed, and are ready for serious negotiations with the
Palestinians. We hope the Palestinians agree to engage
The complete cessation of all settlement activities in the
West Bank and east Jerusalem is one of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud
Abbas’s preconditions to negotiations, besides a demand that the pre-1967 lines
be the starting point for talks.
On Wednesday, the Jerusalem
Municipality’s Local Planning Committee gave final approval to plans for 69 new
homes in Har Homa, beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem, that had been submitted
to them by a contractor who had previously been awarded the bid for the new
construction. The homes are among the last parcels of a project of more than
1,000 new homes in Har Homa approved in August 2011, for which tenders were
issued in April 2012.
One government official deflected speculation that
this announcement would harm Kerry’s efforts, saying the project was on private
land by a private contractor. He said the Prime Minister’s Office had not known
about the approval until it read about it on Wednesday in the
Following the brouhaha created during US Vice President Joe
Biden’s 2010 visit, when an announcement was made of new units in Jerusalem’s
Ramat Shlomo neighborhood over the Green Line, the Prime Minister’s Office
created a mechanism that was supposed to alert it to any projects in the
pipeline coming up for approval at sensitive diplomatic periods.
official said the Har Homa project did not fall into that category because it
was not a government project, and with Kerry coming back and forth so
frequently, his entire tenure so far could be considered a “sensitive diplomatic
Kerry, in Kuwait before leaving for Jordan, said that Israeli
and Palestinian leaders were both committed to reviving peace talks, but he
acknowledged that progress on the long-stalled negotiations would be
“I believe [that] they believe the peace process is bigger than
any one day or one moment, or certainly more important to their countries than
some of their current political challenges,” he told a news conference in Kuwait
with Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Sabah.
“That is why both of
them have indicated a seriousness of purpose. I would not be here now if I
didn’t have the belief [that] this is possible.”
This will be Kerry’s
fifth visit to Israel since March. He is scheduled to arrive Thursday from
Jordan and leave the region on Saturday.
Kerry said he did not want to
set any deadlines for the peace process, but called for progress before the
United Nations General Assembly in September.
Mistrust needed to be
overcome, he said, to “avoid the disappointment and failures of the
There is some concern in Jerusalem that Abbas may enter talks but
then bolt soon afterward in order to launch a diplomatic offensive against
Israel at the UN General Assembly meeting.
The Palestinian daily Al-Quds
reported on Wednesday that Abbas and Netanyahu were scheduled to meet in Jordan
this weekend with Kerry.
Quoting a source in Washington, the
semi-official newspaper said that the Abbas-Netanyahu meeting would be followed
by a series of meetings between chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat and Justice
Minister Tzipi Livni, who is in charge of negotiations with the
The source voiced optimism regarding the prospects of
breaking the stalemate in the peace process during Kerry’s visit.
has received a promise from Abbas to return to the direct negotiations with
Israel,” the source said.
A top PA official in Ramallah would neither
confirm nor deny the report about the planned summit between Abbas and
Netanyahu. The official said the US has been exerting heavy pressure on Abbas to
resume the peace talks with Israel.
“President Abbas has agreed to resume
the talks [with Israel] to avoid being held responsible for the failure of
Kerry’s efforts,” the official explained.
An Israeli official said he was
unaware of any plans for such a summit. But, he added, if Kerry’s mission
succeeded, there would obviously be Israeli-Palestinian meetings at the highest
levels. The sense in Jerusalem was that matters were still fluid, and it was
unclear whether this time Kerry would succeed in bringing the parties back to
Abbas told the Qatari TV channel Al Jazeera that this would
be his seventh meeting with Kerry since the latter entered office.
hope Kerry is carrying something important and new because we care about the
success of the peace process,” Abbas said.
Abbas reiterated his readiness
to return to the negotiating table with Israel. He said that a peaceful
settlement could be achieved between Palestinians and Israelis through
“We have said more than once that if the Israeli government
believes in the two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders, we would be
ready to return to the negotiating table.”
Tovah Lazaroff and Reuters
contributed to this report.
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