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Netanyahu tries to calm Americans in fallout of "hurtful" settlement plan

2010-03-15 07:57 BJT

by Yuan Zhenyu, Deng Yushan

JERUSALEM, March 14 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday the approval of an East Jerusalem housing project announced last week was "regrettable," and reiterated the common interests with the United States, in a bid to cool down simmering tensions between the two allies.

"There was a regrettable incident, that was done in all innocence and was hurtful, and which certainly should not have occurred," Netanyahu told a weekly cabinet meeting.

The premier, still busy dealing with the fallout of the diplomatic row, asked his ministers to remain composure in the face of a tense relationship between Israel and its most important ally.

"I suggest that we not get carried away and that we calm down," said Netanyahu.

During U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's visit to the region, which was largely aimed at pushing forward the long stalled peace process between the Jewish state and the Palestinians, Israeli Interior Ministry approved on March 9 the building of 1,600 housing units in a Jewish neighborhood across the Green Line in East Jerusalem.

The move enraged the Palestinians, who threatened to wreck the newly resumed indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and brought a chorus of criticism from across the world.

Palestinian officials have warned that they would not enter the indirect parley unless Israel cancels the project.

The Obama administration, proposer and broker of the proximity talks, was deeply embarrassed by the plan, and grilled Netanyahu over it.

Biden condemned the decision immediately afterwards, saying it undermines the trust needed for productive negotiations.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a phone lecture to Netanyahu, calling the plan "a deeply negative signal" to the bilateral relationship.

In an apparent attempt to calm the Americans, the Israeli prime minister reiterated the significance of U.S.-Israeli friendship in his Sunday remarks.

"It is of utmost importance to understand that the State of Israel and the U.S. have common interests and we will act according to the vital interests of the State of Israel," said Netanyahu.

Out of concern that any new Israeli construction in East Jerusalem would add fuel to the situation, a district planning committee in Jerusalem cancelled two meetings on Sunday and has suspended discussions of all Israeli construction over the Green Line, reported local daily Ha'aretz.

However, despite his apology for the "unfortunate timing" of the decision, Netanyahu has not shown intention to rescind the building plan in East Jerusalem.

The prime minister, who claimed to have no knowledge of Interior Ministry's decision before it went public, appointed on Saturday a committee consisting of several senior officials to examine the procedure leading to the approval, so as to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.

Giving it a double insurance, Israel is now mulling to amend a law to require a representative from the prime minister's office to take part in the discussion on agreeing construction projects.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, during the 1967 War and later annexed the eastern part of the holy city. The international community has never recognized the move and calls for a complete construction freeze of Jewish settlements there.

Under pressure from the Obama administration, Netanyahu announced in November a 10-month freeze on new construction in the West Bank settlements.

However, he stressed that the construction limits would not be implemented in East Jerusalem, which has long been seen by Palestinians as capital of their future state. Construction for security reasons is also excluded from the moratorium.


Editor: Zhang Pengfei | Source: Xinhua