JERUSALEM — A day after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gently chastised Israeli officials for demolishing Arab homes in East Jerusalem, the city's new mayor pushed back Thursday and suggested that America's top diplomat had been the victim of a disinformation campaign.
During her first visit to the region as secretary of state, Clinton criticized the unfolding home demolitions as "unhelpful" to tenuous Israel-Palestinian peace talks and a violation of Israel's commitment to the diplomatic process.
The office of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat denied to McClatchy on Wednesday that Clinton had raised the issue in private talks earlier in the week. Irked U.S. officials said that it had been discussed.
On Thursday, Barkat, a secular conservative, said that Clinton did raise the issue in their talks, but he suggested that ill-informed reporting had misled America's top diplomat on the issue.
"It's a lot of air and little substance," Barkat said Thursday. "The Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian media are feeding her a lot of disinformation."
The dispute dragged Clinton into the heart of one of the most intractable issues in the conflict: Jerusalem.
During her three-day Middle East visit, Clinton stuck largely to the new administration's cautious approach as American diplomats prepare to embark on their own effort to forge a peace deal that's eluded some of the world's most sophisticated politicians.
No peace pact will be possible without resolving competing claims by Israelis and Palestinians that Jerusalem should be the capital of their nations.
The idea of ceding predominantly Arab parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority has been a prominent feature of the most promising peace deals in recent years. However, many Israelis, including Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu and Barkat, oppose giving up any control over Jerusalem's Old City or its central holy sites.
In the meantime, Jerusalem is slowly demolishing scores of illegally constructed Arab homes in East Jerusalem that are at the center of an unfolding political debate. Jerusalem officials say that they raze only illegally built homes. Arab residents contend that their family rights to the disputed land stretch back before Israel was created in 1948.
Beyond the legal issues, the demolitions are emblematic of the broader fight over who should control Jerusalem.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas criticized the demolitions as undermining the spirit of compromise that will be necessary for any peace deal.
Tensions in Jerusalem escalated Thursday when a Palestinian driver injured two police officers by ramming a construction vehicle into a police car and bus before being shot dead.
It was the fourth time in eight months that Palestinians had used vehicles to mount attacks in Jerusalem. Three people have been killed and more than two dozen injured in the series of attacks.
A leader of the militant Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip indicated that the latest attack was a reaction to the home demolitions in Jerusalem and the recent, 22-day Israeli military operation in Gaza.
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