Construction at Har Homa
Construction at Har HomaIsrael news photo: Flash 90

The U.S. State Department Wednesday denied a report in the Hebrew-language Maariv newspaper that U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell agreed to Israel’s building 2,500 new homes for Jews living in Judea and Samaria in return for a subsequent temporary freeze on further construction.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters at the daily press briefing in Washington that the report in Maariv of a compromise “is inaccurate.” Maariv did not cite sources for its report.

“What I can say is that Senator Mitchell and Defense Minister Barak did have good, productive discussions, but our position has not changed,” Kelly stated. “Our bottom line is the same; it has not changed, and that’s that all parties in the region have to honor their obligations. And you know what our position is regarding settlements. This activity has to stop. This is laid out in the Roadmap. So the reports aren’t accurate."

Kelly also said that no date set has been set for discussions between U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who called off a planned meeting last month because of the gap in positions between the U.S. and Israel. The Netanyahu administration rejects clamping a total freeze on building for Jews in Judea and Samaria.

Several days after the meeting was called off, Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke with Mitchell during a trip to Washington and both men met again this past Monday in London. Israel’s Hebrew-language newspapers and political leaders have reported contradictory results of the meeting. Mitchell is expected to return to Israel in the next two weeks, but Kelly said he did not know if he would meet with the Prime Minister.

If the Maariv report is true, and Israel will agree to a temporary building freeze in return for the immediate construction of 2,500 housing units, it is questionable whether the Palestinian Authority would accept it. The PA and the Arab world have made it clear that there will be no return to negotiations with Israel without total acceptance of their demands for an Israeli commitment to end a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria.