Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert both insisted Tuesday that their notion of a “timeout” in the building of Jewish settlements will not include a halt in any current projects.
The comments by the Israeli leaders responsible for the building of Jewish housing in East Jerusalem and on the West Bank made clear the limitations of the agreement U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright extracted from the Israelis and Palestinians in their meeting Monday.
Netanyahu stressed Tuesday that Israel had agreed to discuss the “concept” of a “timeout,” but he insisted he does not regard current construction as negotiable. “You know we are building in the settlements, enabling natural growth of the settlements, and I don’t intend to change our policy,” he said.
Olmert, who was acquitted Sunday of long-standing charges of political improprieties and now is viewed as a potential right-wing challenger to Netanyahu, vowed that building would continue on the most contentious project, a development in East Jerusalem called Har Homa.
If the Israeli leaders maintain their stance, that would leave only the building of new settlements for inclusion in a “timeout” - and none is planned.
Albright’s meeting in New York with Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy and Palestinian negotiator Mahmoud Abbas concluded with a decision to resume low-level committee talks on various outstanding issues. Those meetings were suspended six months ago after construction began on Har Homa.
On Oct. 13, Israelis and Palestinians are scheduled to meet to try to resume more substantive talks.
During a visit to Israel earlier in September, Albright demanded that Palestinians crack down decisively on terrorism and that Israel take a “timeout” from activities deemed provocative by the Palestinians - specifically, the construction of more housing for Jews.
In talks leading up to Monday’s meeting, Palestinians had pressed for a written commitment by Israel to halt settlement activity. But last week, Netanyahu announced plans for 300 houses in the settlement of Efrat and insisted he does not regard “natural growth” of existing settlements as a matter for discussion.
The sides agreed only to discuss the “definition and content” of any “timeout” when they meet next.