Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists that Israel did not make any pledges to the US, even after US Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell declared Sunday that Israel has agreed to freeze construction in Ramat Shlomo for a period of two years,
The PM stressed that additional construction in the east Jerusalem neighborhood was not scheduled to begin in the next two years due to bureaucratic, rather than political, constraints.
Speaking at a Likud faction meeting Monday, the prime minister said, "Regarding the American announcement, I want to make it clear that my office issued a statement on March 11, during Joe Biden's visit to Israel, saying that the PM has informed the American vice president that planning the housing project in Ramat Shlomo will take more than a year and that actual construction may begin only a few years from now.
"When the Americans asked us to estimate when construction will begin, I said that I don’t believe it will begin before the two-year period ends," said Netanyahu, "This is just a factual description of the (housing) project's status."
According to the prime minister, Israel did not make any commitment, but provided a "factual and accurate description."
"Furthermore," Netanyahu told the faction meeting, "We are clearly stating that there will be no delays in planning and construction throughout Jerusalem. I am not saying that the Americans are in agreement with us on this matter. There are disagreements - and it is possible that (the US) will tell us so, but we have made it clear that our construction policy in Jerusalem is no different than the policies of all Israeli governments over the past 43 years."
State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley said in a statement Sunday that Mitchell has left the Middle East after concluding talks characterized as serious and wide-ranging.
Crowley said both sides have taken some steps to create an atmosphere conducive to successful talks, including an Israeli pledge of no construction in Ramat Shlomo for two years and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ statement that he will work against incitement of "any sort."
"They are both trying to move forward in difficult circumstances and we commend them for that," the State Department said.
AP contributed to the report