Israel Reacts to Construction Moratorium

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JERUSALEM, Israel – Reaction to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s announcement to suspend construction in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) ran the gamut from support to rejection.

Palestinian Authority officials said the moratorium would not bring them back to the negotiating table. Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said the move was meant solely to appease the Obama administration.

“At the end of the day, Netanyahu needs to make peace with us, the Palestinians. He doesn’t need to make peace with the Americans,” Erekat told Army Radio. “If that’s what he wants, that’s his business,” he said. “The last I knew, Washington is 6,000 miles from Jerusalem, while Jericho is 67,” he said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said “the ball is in the Palestinian court.”

“We’ve been more than fair with the Palestinian Authority, both in our intentions to resume negotiations and in actions on the ground, including the removal of roadblocks, investments and cooperation with [Quartet Middle East envoy Tony] Blair,” Lieberman told Army Radio on Thursday morning.

Lieberman’s deputy minister, Danny Ayalon, said the 10-month moratorium would prove that Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria have never been “obstacles to peace.”

“This policy of restraint will prove once and for all that settlements have never been, nor will they ever be, obstacles to peace,” Ayalon said.

“There is only a limited window of opportunity,” he said. “It will be sufficient to demonstrate whether the Palestinians are serious about peace or just serial excuse givers,” the deputy foreign minister said.

Minister Benny Begin said it’s a shame the Palestinians refuse to reopen peace negotiations.

“It is regrettable that our neighbors are not heeding any request, even those made by the U.S. and European countries, to join direct negotiations without preconditions in an effort to reach an agreement,” he said.

Minister and Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon also backed the government’s decision, saying building in the Jerusalem neighborhoods should continue as in any capital city.

“The partial freeze, which allows the construction of public buildings and [ongoing] construction in Jerusalem, is the correct move,” Ya’alon said.

The Palestinians maintain that Israel has no right to build in those parts of Jerusalem that were under Jordanian rule prior to the 1967 Six Day War, when the city was reunited under Israeli sovereignty.

“For the Palestinians and Arabs, Jerusalem is a red line that can’t be crossed,” PA spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said. “We cannot accept any settlement construction freeze that does not include Jerusalem,” he said.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak remains hopeful, believing there is a chance the Palestinians will change their minds.

“I believe the talks will be renewed after the Americans make their proposal,” he said. “The alternative is diplomatic stagnation that could result in violence,” he said.

Meanwhile the Obama administration welcomed Israel’s decision.

“Today’s announcement by the government of Israel helps move forward toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement released after Netanyahu’s announcement on Wednesday.

Many in the American Jewish community also supported the temporary construction freeze.

In a press release posted on their Web site, the Anti-Defamation League called the move “courageous and unprecedented,” saying it “unquestionably demonstrates Israel’s deep and ongoing commitment to reaching a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians.”

“We join with Israel and the United States in calling on the leadership of the Palestinian Authority and the Arab world to respond meaningfully to this significant step by Israel and take their own meaningful action to promote reconciliation, peace and security with Israel,” the statement concluded.

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The Associate Press and YNet news contributed to this report.

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