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Israeli official: Construction in East Jerusalem years away

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Israel responds on settlements
  • Israel's deputy PM: Will take two years to implement plans to expand E. Jerusalem settlements
  • Israel announces in March it will build 1,600 apartments in largely Arab East Jerusalem
  • Deputy PM Dan Meridor said he did not think the issue would affect U.S. Israeli relations

(CNN) -- Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said Tuesday his government would take two years to implement plans to expand the East Jerusalem settlements in Ramat Shlomo, a plan that set off a diplomatic imbroglio with the United States when it was announced two weeks ago.

"By the nature of the planning process, there won't be any building in that Jewish neighborhood called Ramat Shlomo at least within the coming two years," Meridor told CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "So this is really not a problem now -- at least two years, there's not supposed to be any building according to the normal process of planning, that this plan needs to go through."

The Israeli government announced during Vice President Joseph Biden's visit to Jerusalem earlier in March that it would build 1,600 new apartments in largely Arab East Jerusalem. Secretary of state Hillary Clinton later called the timing of the announcement "insulting."

Meridor said he did not think the issue would affect U.S. Israeli relations, nor the attitude of the Obama administration toward the status of Jerusalem.

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"They understand that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel," Meridor said. "Nobody that I know of in America or, for that matter, in the Palestinian Authority, think that when there is an agreement of peace, and there are lines, the Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, those who are in East Jerusalem or West Jerusalem, will not be part of Israel."

But Daniel Levy, a senior fellow at the New America foundation, told Amanpour that the White House would be looking for an acknowledgement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his meeting with President Barack Obama Tuesday evening that the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem would one day be part of an eventual Palestinian state.

"No one is asking Israelis and Palestinians to fall in love," Levy said. "Israel unfortunately is addicted to the settlements. If Israel's ready for peace, it could stop settlements."

"It could say to the international community, 'You guarantee security, you run this,'" Levy added. "I think we need now a concrete American plan not to deal with one settlement, but to deal with the entirety and to get a border."

Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, voiced doubts that the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank would allow the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel -- a "two-state solution."

"I don't see how a two-state solution, based on East Jerusalem being the capital of a Palestinian state, is going to be possible under the circumstances," said Nusseibeh, whose school describes itself as the only Arab university in Jerusalem.

"When you're talking about settlements, I know that the focus today is on 1,600 new housing units in a particular area in Jerusalem, Ramat Shlomo, or whatever," Nusseibeh said. "But you forget the fact that Israel has been building across the green line in East Jerusalem for the past 42 years. And we already have more than 250,000 people living across the green line in Jerusalem, in East Jerusalem, and in the surrounding areas."