Israel defies US over Jerusalem expansion plans
Published 23/03/2010 | 05:00
ISRAEL will defy American pressure to halt the construction of controversial Jewish housing in Arab east Jerusalem when President Obama meets Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, in the White House today.
Fresh from his historic victory to reform American healthcare, the US leader is to be confronted with a foreign policy crisis.
This time Mr Obama must resolve the worst breakdown in relations in decades between America and its closest regional ally -- Israel, and try to get the Arab-Israeli peace process moving again.
But any hopes of a compromise were dashed yesterday when Nir Barkat, the Mayor of Jerusalem, insisted that Jewish settlements would go ahead in spite of US objections.
Mr Barkat said that Israel had not intended to insult America when it announced a 1,600-home plan for Jerusalem during a peace mission by Joe Biden, the US vice-president, earlier this month.
But he remained adamant that the project would go ahead.
"I do not think anybody intended, naturally, to try to insult," he said.
"But let us not get mixed up. Planning in the city of Jerusalem has to, should and will continue.
"We want to be sensitive to the American administration but I want to make sure people realise there is no housing freeze in the city of Jerusalem."
Mr Barkat, a former paratrooper, added that not only would the development proceed, but he also revealed details for another project in east Jerusalem.
The "King's Garden" project in the flashpoint Arab area of Silwan, the scene of regular disturbances between Palestinians and Jewish settlers, envisages the demolition of 80 Palestinian homes to make way for a park.
The status of the holy city is supposed to be negotiated as part of a final settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, who want the Arab side of the city to become the future capital of their state.
Mr Barkat said that Jerusalem would remain the capital of the Jewish state.
It is believed that Israel may be prepared to hold off for a matter of weeks to enable talks to resume with the Palestinians, but has ruled out a permanent freeze.
His remarks were in sharp contrast to the views expressed by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, yesterday in an address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful Israel lobby meeting in Washington.
She said: "New construction in east Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides want and need."
Mr Barkat said that the city was planning 50,000 apartments, two-thirds for Jewish neighbourhoods and a third for Arabs, in proportion to the existing size of the two communities. (©The Times, London)