The Palestinian Authority on Saturday predictably declared that it would not continue peace negotiations with Israel unless the limited building of new Jewish homes in existing Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria was halted completely. The demand includes the eastern half of Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as their capital city.
Israel’s “insistence on combining settlement expansion with the negotiations is a clear indication that it is not serious in dealing with the peace efforts,” read the Palestinian statement.
The statement concluded: “In light of this, the Palestinian leadership holds the Israeli government responsible for the suspension of the negotiations and the peace process by foiling the efforts of the US administration and the international community in that regard.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued his own statement shortly after, trying to remind everyone involved that while he had let the self-imposed 10-month building freeze expire last month, new construction was “moderate and restrained.”
According to government sources cited by the Israeli media, the solution Netanyahu has offered to allow the construction of only 1,200 new Jewish housing units in the so-called “West Bank” over the next 12 months. That would mark an enormous decrease in the Jewish growth rate in the area.
Despite the unprecedented Israeli gesture, Netanyahu said the Palestinians had only “hardened their positions.”
Netanyahu noted that the Palestinians had “conducted direct talks with Israeli governments for the last 17 years amid building in Judea and Samaria, including during the last year of the preceding government,” and were only now trying to change the rules of the game.
He pleaded with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to not leave the talks, insisting that “the way to reach a historic peace agreement between our two peoples is to sit around the negotiating table continuously and with seriousness, and not to leave it, because that is the place to solve our differences.”
Playing its customary role, the international community fully latched onto the Palestinian position and all but ignored the gestures and conciliatory rhetoric of the Israeli leader.
A White House source told Israel’s Ynet news portal that the Obama Administration believes Jewish building in Judea and Samaria must remain frozen.
In a telephone conversation with Netanyahu, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that Israel should not only continue the freeze, but expand it in compliance with Palestinian demands. The 10-month freeze did not include the eastern half of Jerusalem.
Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni jumped at the opportunity to publicly scold Netanyahu.
“Netanyahu must choose [to act in] the real long-term interest of Israel rather than in his own personal political interest,” said Livni, adding that her Kadima Party would fight any decisions that could derail negotiations, in effect giving the Palestinians full leverage over Netanyahu on a domestic political level.