US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Israel on Saturday night as part of ongoing Bush Administration efforts to squeeze a final status peace agreement out of the Israelis and Palestinian Authority before the end of the year.
En route to Israel, Rice made no secret in remarks to reporters traveling with her that she was determined to firmly confront her hosts over the continued construction of new homes in Jewish neighborhoods on the eastern side of Jerusalem.
The Palestinian Authority insists it will not agree to a peace deal with Israel unless it is granted sovereignty over the eastern half of Jerusalem. As such, Rice said that building new Jewish homes in those areas claimed by the Palestinians is clearly a detriment to peace efforts.
Rice also asserted that Israel was violating its own peace commitments under the Road Map peace plan by building Jewish homes in eastern Jerusalem. However, when Israel accepted the Road Map under former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, it did so with several conditions attached, one of which was that it would not freeze building projects in Jewish neighborhoods in any part of Jerusalem.
Israel annexed the eastern half of Jerusalem in 1982, 15 years after liberating the area from Jordanian occupation. Israel continued sovereignty over an undivided Jerusalem is enshrined in Israeli law.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told Reuters that even if Israel agrees to give some parts of eastern Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority, the Jewish neighborhoods, which are today home to hundreds of thousands of people, will not be evacuated and will remain forever under Israeli control. Therefore, said Regev, "building inside those Jewish neighborhoods in no way contradicts our commitment to move forward in the peace process."