In an effort to defuse a bitter spat with the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday night to propose confidence-building measures to get Middle East peace talks back on track, US and Israeli officials said.
Netanyahu’s proposals, while not immediately disclosed, were sufficient for the Obama administration to say that it would send special envoy George Mitchell back to the region on Sunday in a bid to start indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Mitchell’s planned trip this week was scrubbed as the Obama administration awaited Netanyahu’s response to Clinton’s blistering 45-minute call to the Israeli prime minister last Friday.
But the administration pointedly did not embrace Netanyahu’s ideas either. “We are going to review the prime minister’s response and continue our discussions with both sides to keep proximity talks moving forward,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement issued from Moscow, where Clinton is meeting with Russian officials.
Officials said that Clinton and President Barack Obama, who jointly wrote the points for her call last Friday, were furious that Israel announced that 1,600 housing units were being planned in East Jerusalem as Vice President Joe Biden was on a goodwill trip to Israel.
Netanyahu agreed that the timing of the announcement was poor, but he has publicly maintained that Israel has a right to build in parts of Jerusalem that it annexed after the 1967 war, a move not recognized by other nations. Palestinians want to claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state in any peace deal.
In the call last Friday, Clinton demanded that Netanyahu reverse the housing decision, make positive gestures to the Palestinians and agree to put the status of Jerusalem on the table during the indirect talks.
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