Israel has approved the construction of 900 new housing units in annexed east Jerusalem, in a further blow to US efforts to restart Middle East peace talks.
AFP - Israel gave approval on Tuesday for the construction of hundreds of new housing units in annexed Arab east Jerusalem, drawing Western criticism as it drove another stake into troubled Middle East peace efforts.
The interior ministry said it approved the construction of 900 new units in Gilo, one of a dozen Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem, in a move that flew in the face of Palestinian calls -- that had had US backing -- for a complete freeze on new building ahead of fresh peace talks.
Washington was quick to voice its unhappiness with the decision.
"We are dismayed at the Jerusalem planning committee's decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
"At a time when we are working to relaunch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed."
Israeli news reports said that hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had rejected a request from his US ally to halt construction in Gilo. It was not clear whether the request specifially concerned the project okayed on Tuesday.
Britain echoed the US criticism. The Foreign Office said Foreign Secretary David Miliband "has been very clear that a credible deal involves Jerusalem as a shared capital".
"Expanding settlements on occupied land in east Jerusalem makes that deal much harder. So this decision is wrong and we oppose it," a spokeswoman said.
The approval is likely to further hamper Washington's so-far futile efforts to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, amid deep disagreements over the thorny issue of settlements.
The Palestinians demand that Israel freeze all settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, before any resumption of talks but Israel has so far offered only a limited reduction in new building.
The Palestinians said the Israeli announcement was a new blow to peace efforts.
"The Palestinian Authority strongly condemns this decision," said Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat.
"Settlements must be stopped, that is the only way back to a real peace process," he said.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said that the impasse has given him no choice but to seek international recognition of a Palestinian state, even as Europe and the United States discouraged the move.
"We feel we are in a very difficult situation," he said in Cairo after talks with Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak. "What is the solution for us? To remain suspended like this, not in peace? That is why I took this step."
Palestinian officials said earlier this week that they intend to ask the UN Security Council to recognise a state in a move analysts said was aimed at pressuring Israel amid the floundering US peace efforts.
The European Union, the Palestinians' biggest donor, joined the United States in urging reconsideration of the move and instead called for a return to talks.
"I don't think we are there yet," said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency.
"I would hope that we would be in a position to recognise a Palestinian state but there has to be one first, so I think it is somewhat premature," he told reporters in Brussels.
The United States said it opposed any unilateral moves.
Netanyahu has warned that "any unilateral action will undo the framework of past accords and lead to unilateral actions from Israel."
And the Islamist Hamas movement, a bitter rival of Abbas's Fatah movement, poured cold water on any bid for international recognitiion.
"The proclamation of a Palestinian state should be the result of the resistance putting an end to the occupation ... and not a decision taken by (the Palestinian Authority) to fill the void after the political option has failed," said Hamas's exiled political supremo Khaled Meshaal.
Israel captured east Jerusalem with the rest of the West Bank in the Six Day War of 1967. It later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community and insists on retaining the whole of the Holy City as its "eternal, indivisible" capital.
The Palestinians are determined to make the city's eastern sector the capital of their promised state.
Date created : 2009-11-17