Despite recent efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Israel has revealed plans to build nearly 1,300 housing units for Jewish settlers in occupied East Jerusalem. (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk)
Building settlements is illegal under international law and peace negotiations have stalled over the issue.
The announcement, described by Palestinian officials as an Israeli attempt to sabotage the talks, comes out during an official visit to the US for Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is on an official visit to the US.
“We thought that Netanyahu was going to the United States to stop settlement activity and restart negotiations, but it is clear to us that he is determined to destroy the talks,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.
The Interior Ministry said that final approval had been given for almost 1,000 new homes in the East Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa, near the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, and about 300 in an area called Ramot.
Although the international community considers East Jerusalem an occupied Palestinian territory, Israel says it is part of its territory.
The US and other foreign governments have urged Israel to resume a partial building freeze in settlements on the occupied West Bank as well as to maintain an unofficial status quo in East Jerusalem, in order to help faltering peace talks with the Palestinians.
Earlier this year, a similar announcement from Israel during a trip to Jerusalem by US vice-president Joe Biden angered the US administration.
The Israeli leader is scheduled to have meetings with Biden and other US officials this week, during which they will discuss ways to resume the peace talks. And according to peace campaigners the latest announcement from the Israeli government is deliberately provocative.
After a break of almost 20 months, the negotiations resumed in Washington in September. The Palestinians had refused to resume the talks without a stop to building Jewish settlements on the territory they want as their future state.
Israel has occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since 1967, settling close to 500,000 Jews in more than 100 settlements.