Israel delays approval of east Jerusalem housing

AP News
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Posted: Apr 11, 2011 10:13 AM
Israel delays approval of east Jerusalem housing

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked a government panel to put off final approval of 2,500 new apartments in east Jerusalem, an official said Monday _ a reflection of the intense international pressure Israel is under to avoid friction with the Palestinians.

The move came just as tensions were easing along Israel's border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, where a fragile quiet appeared to be taking hold after several days of escalation that raised fears of another major eruption of violence.

Amid reports of an unofficial, foreign-mediated cease-fire, Palestinian militants appeared to be stilling their rocket and mortar fire Monday, and Israel was refraining from retaliating for previous attacks.

However, Israel's controversial foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, voiced concerns that any lull would merely allow Hamas to strengthen and regroup. He told Israel Radio that restraint was "a grave mistake" and that Israel's main objective should be "the toppling of the Hamas regime."

Weeks of mortar and rocket fire at southern Israel _ met by increasingly harsh Israeli reprisals _ snowballed by last week into the most intense confrontation since Israel's war in the Palestinian territory more than two years ago.

When rocket fire hit a schoolbus on the Israeli side of the border on Thursday, Israelis were outraged and the attack could have sent the two sides hurtling into another war. But the bus was nearly empty, no one died and neither side seemed interested in a major faceoff.

There was no confirmation Monday that cease-fire conditions had been nailed down. But life in southern Israel returned to normal, and both sides expressed readiness to halt their fire if the other would.

The easing of tensions along the Gaza border came as the Palestinian Authority moved forward with plans to gain international recognition for an independent state. The Palestinians hope to take their case to the United Nations in September and sidestep talks with Israel.

Negotiations with Netanyahu never got off the ground because he refuses to commit to an internationally mandated settlement freeze, and Palestinians say they won't negotiate without one.

The Palestinians plan to tell a conference of donor countries this week that they are ready for statehood.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has been laying the groundwork with a series of developments and reforms.

Ali Jarbawi, the Palestinian minister of planning, said Monday that the Palestinian government has reduced its dependence on foreign aid by 35 percent in the past two years.

Netanyahu's office had no comment when asked if it intervened to postpone the approval of the new construction in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians envision as their future capital.

However, two officials confirmed that the projects had been struck from an Interior Ministry panel's agenda this week. One added that Netanyahu's office had asked the Interior Ministry to delay the discussion of the project, citing pressure from the Quartet of international peacemakers _ the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with media.

New Israeli construction in east Jerusalem would likely deepen Israel's isolation.

Netanyahu on Monday accused the international community _ "people with good intentions," he called them _ of putting peace even further out of reach by telling the Palestinians they don't have to negotiate. "Tell the Palestinians to stop giving excuses and stop giving ifs, ands and buts," he told a group of European ambassadors.