FM hints J’lem building was also frozen

Lieberman: 1,600 units in capital ready to be built when freeze ends.

August 26, 2010 02:00
3 minute read.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Hungary.

lieberman glasses profile 311 AP. (photo credit: AP)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman seemed to confirm on Wednesday that despite the government’s statements that it did not stop building in Jerusalem during the 10-month settlement moratorium, construction in the capital’s Jewish neighborhoods beyond the Green Line has indeed been frozen.

Lieberman said that this situation should not continue after the settlement construction moratorium ends on September 26.

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'New obstacles' prevent talks
Mixed messages over building freeze

When he was asked in an Israel Radio interview for his position on extending the settlement housing-start moratorium so as not to derail the direct talks set to begin next week in Washington with the Palestinian Authority, Lieberman talked about the need to continue plans to develop 1,600 units in Jerusalem.

“Presently there are 1,000 housing units on the table in Ramot, another 600 housing units in neighborhoods like Gilo, east Talpiot, Har Homa and Pisgat Ze’ev. What, does someone expect that we will continue to freeze 1,600 housing units that went through all the [bureaucratic] procedures?” he asked.

All of the neighborhoods Lieberman mentioned are beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office denied that there had been a freeze in Jerusalem, saying that when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared the moratorium 10-months ago he made clear that it did not include any part of the capital.

“I know there have been tenders issued since that time,” the official said.

The US administration, however, has not led anyone to believe that even Meridor’s formula would be acceptable, since the view in Washington is widely believed to be that any building after September 26 would likely drive PA President Mahmoud Abbas away from the negotiating table, something Washington believes is not in anyone’s interest.

The issue is splitting the cabinet, a month before a decision on whether to extend the moratorium needs to be taken.

While Shas head and Interior Minister Eli Yishai said on Wednesday, during a visit to Shomriya in Samaria, home to Gush Katif evacuees, that he opposed continuing the freeze in any form, Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman (Labor) called upon Labor chairman Barak to convene the party’s institutions and formally endorse continuing the moratorium.

“Thankfully, a window of opportunity is opening in upcoming days enabling serious progress in the peace process,” Braverman wrote. “Labor must do everything possible to ensure that the opportunity will not be missed. Building in Judea and Samaria would be a major obstacle to taking advantage of this opportunity. Renewing construction at this time, as the Right wants, would undermine the peace talks.”

Beyond the settlement freeze, Lieberman – speaking a week before Netanyahu travels to Washington for the talks with the PA – pretty much dismissed any chance of the negotiations leading anywhere.

“What is clear is that the Palestinians are not coming [to the talks] out of good, true will to achieve peace or make progress,” Lieberman said. “They are coming because they were coerced into coming, they are coming with conditions and demands to blow up or prevent any real honest negotiation.”

Lieberman said he viewed next week’s relaunch of direct talks as just another ceremony, similar to many other ones that have been held over the last two decades, “from Madrid to Annapolis.” He said that the sides were so substantially far apart in their positions that it was “difficult to talk about a peace agreement in a year.”

His advice: “I think everyone, the Americans, Europeans, everyone has to lower expectations. There is no magic formula here that someone has discovered.”

A source in the Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu, in accepting the US invitation to take part in the talks, said that reaching an agreement would be difficult, but that a deal was possible within a year. Netanyahu, the source stressed, said a deal was possible, not that it would be reached or was even likely, just that it was “possible.”

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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