Herb Keinon
The Jerusalem Post
January 20, 2010 - 1:00am

The Palestinian Authority is pushing Israel to agree to a total construction freeze, in both the settlements and east Jerusalem, of between three to six months, something senior Israeli officials said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will not agree to, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

This is one idea that US Middle East envoy George Mitchell is expected to raise during talks with Netanyahu on Thursday. Mitchell, who has not been to the region since early November, is scheduled to arrive on Wednesday and stay through Saturday.

He is set to arrive after two days of talks in Lebanon, and - in addition to going to the PA - is also expected to go to Syria during this visit.

The call for a complete freeze, including in Jerusalem, for a short period is viewed as an attempt by PA President Mahmoud Abbas to return to negotiations without "losing face," since he has said repeatedly that he would not begin discussions with Israel before there was a total halt to construction beyond the June 4, 1967 lines.

Netanyahu, who has already declared a 10-month housing-start moratorium in the West Bank settlements, has said he will not agree to any limitations on construction in east Jerusalem.

"This is not going to happen; it goes against everything Netanyahu says and believes in," one source in the Prime Minister's Office said about even a symbolic freeze in Jerusalem.

The source also dismissed as completely unrealistic the idea that Netanyahu could agree to an unofficial halt to Jewish construction in east Jerusalem, meaning that although he would not announce anything publicly, new building in the capital beyond the pre-Six Day War lines would stop for a certain amount of time.

In addition to being against Netanyahu's world view, the official said, an unofficial freeze would also be unsustainable, since the news of any such informal agreement would inevitably be leaked and cause Netanyahu severe political damage.

The US has been urging the PA to return to negotiations since the cabinet approved the housing-start moratorium on November 25, and has also been trying to get the Arab world, specifically Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to encourage Abbas to return to the table.

In exchange for the PA returning to the negotiating table, it is widely assumed that Israel would be asked to take some additional steps. Among the ideas that have been raised are expanding Area A in the West Bank, where the Palestinians have both civil and security control; removing more roadblocks; releasing Palestinian security prisoners to Abbas; opening the border crossings into the Gaza Strip to allow for a greater flow of goods and materials; and reopening Orient House in east Jerusalem.

On Sunday, however, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman seemed to dash any notion of more gestures to the Palestinians to lure them to talks, saying Israel had emptied out its "arsenal of gestures" and that Jerusalem was now waiting for gestures from the Palestinians.


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