Akiva Eldar
April 23, 2010 - 12:00am

The prime minister's response Thursday on Channel 2 that "there will be no freeze [in construction] in Jerusalem," is like Bill Clinton's "I did not have sex with that woman."

Benjamin Netanyahu did not insist this time that he will continue construction in Ramat Shlomo, Gilo and Har Homa - something he is leaving for Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to do.

Based on the speeches the two gave on Independence Day, Jerusalem Day came early this year.

The two were aware that the moment they were swearing that "united Jerusalem" would never be divided, Barack Obama's envoys were packing their bags for a visit to the region.

The Israelis knew that special envoy George Mitchell was not being sent to the eternal capital just to hear Netanyahu insist on developing the real estate business in East Jerusalem.

Mitchell put up with a lot on his way to a peace agreement in Northern Ireland and did not come here to nail shut the coffin of the peace process. He does not want to bury Israel's relations with the White House.

The signs were thick Thursday that behind the proclamations of a "unified Jerusalem," a quiet accord was in the works with the Americans. As long as the Jews are not building in Sheikh Jarrah and Ramat Shlomo, Obama and his aides don't care what the Jews say about a construction freeze in Arab parts of the city.

In Washington they realized that if Netanyahu wants to preserve his coalition, he can't allow any doubts about the "integrity of Jerusalem." As far as the Americans are concerned, let Netanyahu run around telling everyone that Jerusalem is no different than Tel Aviv. The key thing is that the Palestinians don't read in the paper that the interior minister approved new construction in the Holy City.

Several months ago Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Defense Minister Ehud Barak that he is willing to do without a public pronouncement on a construction freeze in Jerusalem. He said he was willing to make do with a discreet promise to that effect by the defense minister.

He is still waiting for an answer. If Obama can get Abbas to come down from the tree he climbed up - as Netanyahu likes to say - the prime minister needs to help out with a ladder: a gentleman's agreement that the Israeli government will not publish any more tenders for the construction of Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, at least until the end of the coming round of talks.


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