Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has agreed to freeze construction in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem for two years, officials in the United States State Department said Sunday. Netanyahu's office denied that he has agreed not to build in Ramat Shlomo in northern Jerusalem until 2012.
US officials said the move was part of an effort to create the right atmosphere for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Israel has agreed to freeze construction, and the PA has agreed to fight incitement, they said. Israel has long complained that the PA engages in incitement and indoctrination of its populace to revere terrorist murderers and hate Jews.
The PA announced Sunday that it has agreed to hold indirect negotiations with Israel, after threatening for several weeks that it would not do so unless Israel extended the freeze on construction in Judea and Samaria to eastern Jerusalem as well. The Israeli decision not to build in Ramat Shlomo may be a compromise between the pressure from the US and PA to declare a complete freeze in eastern Jerusalem, and the official government position that construction in the capital will go on.
US envoy George Mitchell left Israel on Sunday; the talks are scheduled to begin with his return to the region next week.
Earlier this year US officials were upset when the Jerusalem municipality confirmed the approval of a construction project in Ramat Shlomo during a visit from US Vice-President Joe Biden. At the time, Israeli officials said the US anger was misplaced, because the declaration was simply part of a long bureaucratic approval that would take years anyways.
During the same visit, PA officials met to honor deceased female terrorist Dalal el-Mughrabi, who led the most bloody terrorist attack in Israel's history.
Ramat Shlomo is a predominantly hareidi-religious neighborhood in northern Jerusalem. It was built on state land that was not previously owned by Arabs, and is surrounded by other Jewish neighborhoods. The land was under Jordanian occupation from 1948 to 1967.
The PA claims Ramat Shlomo as part of the capital of a PA state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. According to PA officials, all land east of the 1949 armistice line is rightfully Arab, including historically Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem.