JERUSALEM, (AFP) — Israel has unveiled plans for more than 230 new homes for Jewish settlers in Arab east Jerusalem, reports said on Friday, in a move likely to complicate US attempts to revive the peace process.
The move to build around 240 new housing units in the settlement neighbourhoods of Pisgat Zeev and Ramot, was approved late on Thursday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Ynet news website said.
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are facing imminent collapse in the face of a row about settlement building on occupied land, which restarted on September 26 after temporary restrictions on building expired.
Although the 10-month freeze did not cover construction in east Jerusalem, Netanyahu had quietly avoided signing off on any such projects in order to avoid the political fallout, Ynet said.
Settlement watchdog Peace Now said the announcement was likely to further damage efforts to salvage Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations which are already on the rocks over settlement building.
“The fact is that someone — either the housing minister or the prime minister — is trying to make a point: they want to make it harder on peace efforts,” Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran told AFP.
“Such a decision is going to be a problem for the continuation of the talks and this is exactly what they were trying to achieve.”
She said it was the first time such a plan had been approved since March, when Israel gave the green light to plans for the construction of 1,600 new settler homes in east Jerusalem during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden, prompting a major crisis in relations with Washington.
Israel seized Arab east Jerusalem in the Six Day War of 1967 and annexed it shortly afterwards in a move not recognised by the international community or the Palestinians, who consider it the capital of their promised state.
The Palestinians see the settlements as a major threat to the establishment of a viable state, and they view the freezing of settlement activity as a crucial test of Israel’s intentions.