Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat vowed to continue building throughout the capital early Monday morning, just a few hours after US Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell announced that Israel had agreed to freeze construction in east Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.
In a statement released in his name, Barkat wrote, "The real test is of practical steps – the municipality continues to advance building in all parts of the city, in accordance with master plans for Jews and Arabs alike. We expect the Interior Ministry and the Housing Ministry to approve the plans and assist in the effort to preserve the young population and the hold on Jerusalem, which suffers from lack of housing, to stop the emigration from the city. We trust the prime minister not to approve a freeze in Jerusalem, not in words and not in deeds."
The Palestinians are saying the opposite – the construction freeze is a fact that will continue, even if it is not announced officially.
"The real test is not in declarations, but deeds. The Palestinians are committed to maintaining the freeze and understand that for the sake of the negotiations' success, Netanyahu's constraints must be taken into account too," Palestinian sources said, adding that this did not mean that the prime minister's acts would be ignored.
Landau: Netanyahu's error
Minister of National Infrastructure Uzi Landau, currently in Costa Rica, expressed his concern over the announcement of a freeze, in spite of the denials heard from sources close to Netanyahu. "I am not familiar with all the details, but if what I heard is true, this is a serious error. I intend to say so to Netanyahu, and I will express the same opinion before the entire government," the minister said.
Mitchell's announcement also included an unusual and specific threat: if the proximity talks were to fail, the responsibility would be on the side that took steps that significantly undermined confidence in the process.
In contrast to Landau, Minister of Information and Diaspora Yuli Edelstein was calm and willing to adopt the position of the prime minister. "When criticism is called for, I don’t hesitate to give it, but I don't think now is the time for it," he said. "There is nothing new here. When (US Vice President Joe) Biden was here it was said that the approval for construction would take years, and so there is anyway no chance that new housing units in Ramat Shlomo will take shape within the next two or three years."
Edelstein noted, that "even the US didn't call this 'Netanyahu's commitment,' but a clarification in his name. I don't think we're talking about something that can change the government's consistent stance or the position of its leader – according to which construction in Jerusalem will continue, in all parts of the city." He also noted that on Sunday the government had dedicated an hour and a half to the discussion on Jerusalem, in which the issue of the freeze had not even been mentioned.
But the minister was also pessimistic about the chances of success with the proximity talks, blaming the Palestinians. "The Americans are really trying to promote the process in a problematic framework. If they bring the two sides together to negotiate – great, but in the current atmosphere in the PA, it's hard to see how we'll move on to direct talks. They are looking for excuses to blame Israel instead of trying to progress."
Ali Waked and Ronen Medzini also contributed to this report