'No R. Shlomo construction for 2 yrs'

PMO downplays pledge, says building wasn't meant to begin yet anyway.

Mitchell waves 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Mitchell waves 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The US State Department issued a statement Sunday saying the Palestinian Authority and Israel are taking steps to create an atmosphere conducive to successful talks, with Israel committing itself not to build in Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood for two years.
“Special Envoy Mitchell left the Middle East on Sunday, after completing the first round of proximity talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The talks were serious and wide-ranging,” the statement read.
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“Both parties are taking some steps to help create an atmosphere that is conducive to successful talks, including [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas’ statement that he will work against incitement of any sort, and Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu’s statement that there will be no construction at the Ramat Shlomo project for two years,” the statement continued.
“They are both trying to move forward in difficult circumstances and we commend them for that.”
Netanyahu explains decision on northern J'lem neighborhood
Soon after the State Department released the statement, sources close to Netanyahu released a statement of their own, explaining the commitment regarding Ramat Shlomo, the northern Jerusalem neighborhood where plans to build 1,600 new homes were publicized during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit here in March, triggering a crisis in US-Israel ties.
According to the sources close to Netanyahu, the prime minister announced during Biden’s visit that for all practical purposes, the planning process for Ramat Shlomo would continue for another year, and actual construction would only begin in a number of years.
“A description of that situation was made known to the American administration,” the sources said.
In fact, just before Biden delivered his supportive parting speech at Tel Aviv University, which Jerusalem erroneously thought signaled the end of the Ramat Shlomo crisis, the Prime Minister’s Office put out a statement that read, “The Prime Minister informed the Vice President that this specific project [Ramat Shlomo] had moved through various planning stages over several years. The final approval process will in all likelihood take more than a year and the beginning of actual construction would likely take several years.”
That statement, according to sources close to Netanyahu, served as the basis for Sunday’s State Department statement about Ramat Shlomo. This was an important clarification for the PMO since, in recent days, Netanyahu’s spokesmen had said repeatedly that he made no commitment to a construction freeze in Jerusalem.
US: We have received commitments, made assurances
According to the State Department statement, the US had received “commitments from both sides, and we have made assurances to both sides, that are enabling us to move forward. The full scope of these discussions will remain private.”
Sources close to Netanyahu sought, however, to clarify that these commitments did not pertain to Jerusalem, saying that Netanyahu has “made it clear throughout that construction and planning in Jerusalem will continue as usual, just as has been the case with every Israeli government in the last 43 years, and no Israeli commitments were given on this matter.”
Regarding other commitments, the sources said Netanyahu said he would be willing to initiate Israeli “gestures” during the talks, in parallel with signs of “good will” from the Palestinians.
The State Department statement also contained a thinly veiled threat: “As both parties know, if either takes significant actions during the proximity talks that we judge would seriously undermine trust, we will respond to hold them accountable and ensure that negotiations continue.”
Mitchell, according to the statement, will return next week to continue the proximity talks, and “emphasized the importance of making progress in these talks to enable the parties to move to direct negotiations that will result in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our overall goal remains a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.”
PM calls for direct talks, Erekat digresses
Netanyahu, while again welcoming the PA’s agreement to enter indirectpeace talks, said it was inconceivable that decisions on criticalissues would be made without the sides sitting in the same room.
“Peace cannot be made from a distance or by remote control, especiallygiven that we and the Palestinians are neighbors,” the prime ministersaid at the opening of Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting.
“Over time it is inconceivable that we will make decisions andagreements on critical issues such as security and our nationalinterests, and theirs as well, without sitting together in the sameroom,” he said. “Therefore, as soon as possible, the proximity talkswill need to lead to direct talks in which we will continue the effortto reach the peace and security that will enable us to live alongsidethe Palestinians for generations.”
PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, meanwhile, said after Mitchell met Abbas onSunday that direct talks would only be possible were Israel to impose acomplete freeze on settlement construction.