Last update - 17:18 27/08/2009 U.S. drops demand for Israel building freeze in East Jerusalem
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent, and News Agencies
BERLIN - The Obama administration has agreed to Israel's request to remove East Jerusalem from negotiations on the impending settlement freeze.
According to both Israeli officials and Western diplomats, U.S. envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell has recognized the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot announce a settlement freeze in East Jerusalem. The officials said the U.S. will not endorse new construction there, but would not demand Jerusalem publicly announce a freeze.
Netanyahu presented a proposal on Wednesday for resolving the ongoing Israeli-American dispute over construction in the settlements. In a meeting with Mitchell, Netanyahu suggested a temporary freeze, reportedly for nine months, on construction in the West Bank, a government source said.
Netanyahu also said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' reported willingness to meet with him was "a positive first step."
The Americans are slated to respond to Netanyahu's proposal at a meeting in Washington next week between Mitchell and two Israeli officials: Netanyahu's envoy, attorney Yitzhak Molcho, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak's chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Mike Herzog.
Mitchell himself will return to Jerusalem in the second week of September with the goal of finalizing an agreement.
The new Israeli proposal will exclude some 2,500 housing units on which construction has already started.
[link to www.haaretz.com