Raising expectations that a compromise may be in the works, it appears that Mr. Netanyahu has called some kind of de facto freeze on new Israeli building in East Jerusalem – which Palestinians see as their future capital.
"It's not that all construction has been frozen, because projects that have been approved in the past have continued to be constructed," says city councilman Meir Margalit, a member of Meretz, a left-wing party that favors an East Jerusalem settlement freeze. But within the municipality of Jerusalem, he says, committees that usually deal with approving building projects in East Jerusalem have not met since the March visit of Vice President Joe Biden was interrupted by the announcement of 1,600 new housing units in a Jewish East Jerusalem neighborhood.
"From my point of view, this is proof that when the Americans want something, 'yes, they can,' " he says, alluding to President Obama's campaign slogan. "It's a positive sign. The timing is very important, because as I see it, to freeze all new building in East Jerusalem is a symbolic step to restart the negotiations. It's a lot more important than building a few more apartments."
During Mr. Biden's visit, Netanyahu's interior minister announced that 1,600 new housing units would be built in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish neighborhood built in 1995, next to the crowded Arab neighborhood of Shuafat. In an Israeli TV interview April 22, Netanyahu said that there would be no building freeze in Jerusalem, and that his policy had not changed.