In a move sure to further worsen tensions, Israel’s government has approved the construction of 1,100 homes in southeast Jerusalem, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and they say they cannot resume negotiations with Israel until the latter ceases expanding its settlements in Palestinian areas.
The homes are planned for the settlement of Gilo, which Israel maintains is a neighborhood of Jerusalem. The international community, including the United States, has demanded that Israel cease its settlement expansion to allow for peace talks. Construction, however, can begin after a 60-day period for public comment.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the call for a settlement freeze in an interview with the Jerusalem Post on Monday. He said the demand for an end to settlement construction was something the Palestinians as “a pretext ... use again and again, but I think a lot of people see it as a ruse to avoid direct negotiations.”
The timing of the announcement follows last week's General Assembly sessions at the United Nations, where Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas submitted to the Security Council a formal request for recognition of a Palestinian state. The U.S. is expected to side with Israel and veto the application.
“The administration and the United States government is deeply disappointed by that announcement," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday, according to press pool reports. "The Palestinians and the Israelis should take steps that bring them closer to direct negotiations to resolve the issues that stand in the way of Palestinian statehood and a secure Jewish state of Israel. When either side takes unilteral action that makes it harder to achieve that, we make our views known just as we did with regard to the Palestinian action at the United Nations.”
"This plan should be reversed," the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, told the E.U. Parliament Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. Israeli settlement expansion "threatends the viability of an agreed two-state solution," Ashton said.