April 22nd, 2010
04:12 PM ET
4 years ago

Mitchell in Israel; Netanyahu says 'no freeze' on construction

 Obama administration's special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, returned to the region Thursday.
Obama administration's special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, returned to the region Thursday.

(CNN) – Obama administration's special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, returned to the region Thursday, even as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized that "there will be no freeze" on construction opposed by Palestinians and the United States.

Mitchell's visit comes in the wake of talks this week that included U.S., Israeli and Palestinian officials.

"At the end of those discussions last night, we thought it was fruitful for George to travel to the region," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. He provided no details.

The talks, conducted in Israel, included Dan Shapiro, of the National Security Council, and David Hale, one of Mitchell's deputies, Crowley said. It was not clear who represented Israel and the Palestinians.

In an interview Thursday on Israel's Channel 2, Netanyahu said "there will be no freeze in Jerusalem."

The United States and Israel have been at odds over Israeli plans to build residences in East Jerusalem.

"This is what we are arguing about," Netanyahu said. "They are saying we have to stop building and I say as prime minister of all the Israelis, there are red lines. This is a red line. I won't cross it. This is not a dispute with America."

Asked for a response to Netanyahu's comments, Crowley said, "I don't think that they necessarily are new."

"We understand that the Israelis have a long-standing position," he said. "But as [Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] has said repeatedly, 'the status quo is not sustainable.'"

Crowley said the United States has received "a number of ideas from the Israelis" in response to "specific steps" that Obama administration asked them to take.

"Some of them address the concerns that we laid out in the initial conversation between Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu a few weeks ago," Crowley said. "Have they done everything that we'd like to see them do? No. But this is why ... we're continuing this conversation."

Crowley said Mitchell would meet with both Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas while in the region.

Senior State Department officials, however, said they didn't expect any major breakthroughs from the talks. They noted that Netanyahu does not see any incentive to take action on settlement activity in East Jerusalem until negotiations start, and Abbas is tentative about holding talks with Israel without any commitments on settlements, especially given Arab League demands that settlement activity stop before negotiations begin.

Netanyahu's comments are not likely to make ending the ongoing rift between the United States and Israel over East Jerusalem construction any easier.

In March the Israeli government announced the construction of 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem as U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden was
visiting the Jewish state. The announcement outraged the Obama administration and led to the Palestinian withdrawal from agreed-upon indirect negotiations with Israel.

In a visit later that month to the United States, Netanyahu was presented with a set of concessions the White House wanted to see the Israel make in an effort to restart negotiations with the Palestinians.

Neither government detailed what the exact nature of the concessions were, but sources on both sides said a halt in East Jerusalem construction was among the demands from the Obama administration.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Netanyahu had informed the White House over the weekend that it would not stop building in East Jerusalem.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli government, would not comment on the report other to say that "the talks with the Americans are ongoing."

"We are working hard to find a framework that will allow for the resumption of talks." Regev said in reference to restarting negotiations with
the Palestinians.

Israel seized East Jerusalem from Jordan during the Six Day War in 1967 and considers it part of it's sovereign capital - a claim not recognized by the international community. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the future capital of their state.


Filed under: Benjamin Netanyahu • George Mitchell • Israel
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. chelle

    That's certainly Isreal's choice. Now the US should choose to stop sending money.

    April 22, 2010 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  2. KateHikes

    I say, if the Zionist entity wants to play hardball, the federal government should start giving the homes and property of jews in America (there's really no such thing as "jewish Americans," since these people are loyal only to themselves) to Palestinian Americans. That'll motivate these spawn of Satan.

    April 22, 2010 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  3. JIm,VIRGINIA

    Netanyahu needs to go out to dinner with Mitchell and leave in the middle of it. Tell him he has more important things to do than set around talking about how O'bama can cozy up to the Iranians.

    April 22, 2010 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  4. Rickster

    Der Fuhrer Obama will not be happy........opposition will NOT be tolerated!!

    April 22, 2010 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  5. Sorensen

    Cut the money, weapons, military support, everything. NOW!
    Then have the guts to ask the american people, what they think.
    And then publish it worldwide.
    Let's see who has the balls to do that.

    April 22, 2010 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
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