Israel responds to U.S. demands, patching up strained ties

20:35, March 19, 2010      

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday night called U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, proposing a "trust-building" formula to push forward the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, said Israeli prime minister's office.

During the phone call, in response to the demands of U.S. President Barack Obama's administration concerning the Mideast peace process, Netanyahu promised goodwill gestures to foster trust between Israel and the Palestinians, in a bid to start the indirect talks as soon as possible, and also to mend ties with the United States.

Those measures are likely to include releasing Palestinian prisoners and removing checkpoints in the West Bank.

As to the building plan in East Jerusalem, which triggered a diplomatic row between Israel and the United States, The Washington Post reported earlier that the Israeli prime minister, who is prohibited legally to rescind the program, would offer a de facto freeze on settlement construction, promising that no building work will begin in several years in the controversial section of the holy city, which has long been at the forefront of the intractable Israeli-Palestinian feud.

Netanyahu's patchwork, on which he spent days consulting with his cabinet members, started to get payout.

After the conversation, a U.S. State Department spokesman said the Obama administration is going to "review the Prime Minister's response and continue our discussion with both sides to keep proximity talks moving forward."

Meanwhile, the State Department announced George Mitchell, the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, will meet with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas this weekend.

Mitchell, who had been slated to arrive in the region earlier this week to kick start the indirect talks, postponed his visit on Tuesday amid the ongoing diplomatic spat.

The Mideast peace process, as well as relations between Israel and the United States, has seen dramatic ups and downs in recent two weeks.

During last week's visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, a visit of the highest level to the volatile region by a U.S. official since Obama took office early last year, Israeli Interior Ministry gave greenlight to a 1,600 housing unit plan in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

The project, which went public a day after Mitchell announced both Israel and the Palestinians agreed to hold indirect peace talks, threatened to nip the newly-resumed peace process in the bud, with enraged Palestinians vowing not to enter talks before Israel cancel the building plan.

The Obama administration, proposer and broker of the proximity talks, was also embarrassed by the decision of the Israeli government.

Despite Netanyahu's apology for the "unfortunate timing" of the approval, U.S. officials, referring to the move as an "insult," have lined up in recent days to bombard Israel with harsh criticism.

However, to quell speculation and media hype about a "crisis" between the two traditional allies, the United States has already started to tune down.

In an interview with Fox News, Obama reaffirmed the world power 's commitment to Israel, saying the Jewish state is "one of our closest allies, and we and the Israeli people have a special bond that's not going to go away."

Source: Xinhua
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