US Consul in Jerusalem gives rare interview – causes uproar

The US Consul in Jerusalem Jacob Walles said in an interview with the Palestinian daily paper Al-Ayyam that there has been little observable progress in implementation of Road Map obligations — such as the end to Israeli settlement-building.

But what really caused an uproar was his statement that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice believed that the post-Annapolis direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was — and should be — conducted on the basis of 1967 borders.

This confirms what Israeli sources who follow their government’s settlement activities closely have said in interviews this past week — that there is strong American pressure on Israel concerning certain areas in and around Jerusalem, and to have a solution fast…

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post has reported that “Israel conveyed its displeasure to Washington on Thursday over remarks reportedly made by US Consul General Jacob Walles that it had agreed to start negotiations with the Palestinians over Jerusalem. The comments prompted a bitter row among Kadima’s would-be leaders. According to government sources, Walles’s comments, which appeared in the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, were ‘highly inappropriate’, since there is a US-Palestinian-Israeli agreement not to go public with what is being discussed by the negotiators … Walles said changes to those lines were possible should both sides agree”.

The JPost report added that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a Kadima Party meeting at Kfar Hamaccabiah in Ramat Gan on Thursday night that his government was sticking by its position that Jerusalem should be left until the end of the talks. ‘We have achieved significant progress, but we haven’t started the negotiations on Jerusalem yet’, Olmert told a crowd of several hundred party activists and supporters. ‘We said this issue would be handled last, and that is what we’ll do’ … Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in an interview on Channel 1, said in reference to the Walles comments that ‘what was said was not correct’. [But] She refused to answer when asked whether she thought Israel should control the Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. After the problematic nature of Walles comments became clear – they contradict what Olmert has been saying for months, and also put Livni, the head of Israel’s negotiating team, in an uncomfortable position facing next week’s Kadima primary – State Department spokesman Sean McCormack issued a clarification. ‘The US government has not taken a position on borders’, the McCormack statement read. ‘While the discussions between the parties are confidential, we can state that the parties have not in any way prejudiced long-held views on borders. A senior US official who participated in the discussions denies that the Israeli side, led by chief negotiator Foreign Minister Livni, has been willing to negotiate concerning Jerusalem. The secretary participated in the negotiations in a way that respected the Israeli position’. During his interview, Walles said that although the goal of the Bush administration was to have a working agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis by the time US President George W. Bush leaves office in January, should that deadline fail to be achieved, all progress made up until that point would pass over to the next administration … Walles also said that Israel had made little progress in removing settlement outposts, and had increased settlement construction since the Annapolis conference last November”

This JPost article can be read in full here .