London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Israeli authorities approved the construction of over 500 new apartments in East Jerusalem on Wednesday, in a move Palestinian leaders said threatened ongoing US-backed peace talks.
Jerusalem City Council said it had approved applications to build 558 new apartments in three districts, Har Homa, Neve Yaakov and Pisgat Ze’ev, which fall in West Bank territory occupied by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank are regarded as illegal under international law, though this is disputed by Israel.
Palestinian leaders criticized the decision, saying it was aimed at sabotaging ongoing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which resumed last July.
Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) official Hanan Ashrawi said: “Israel is engaging in the deliberate provocation of the Palestinians, to drive them to leave the negotiations in protest of Israeli violations, and therefore should be blamed for the destruction of the peace process.”
Hana Issa, the secretary general of the Islamic–Christian Commission in Support of Jerusalem and Holy Sites, said: “The Israeli practice of building settlements on occupied Palestinian land started very shortly after the 1967 war. While Israel maintains it is building them to guarantee Israeli security, the real reason is consolidating Israeli control in occupied Palestinian territory, guaranteeing Israeli power and expanding their borders.”
The current round of peace talks, pushed by US Secretary of State John Kerry, have stalled over a number of issues, including that of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which has proven to be a sticking point in previous Palestinian–Israeli talks.
The two sides have also disagreed over the issue of border security in the Jordan Valley, with Palestinian leaders ruling out the presence of Israeli troops in the area after the creation of a Palestinian state.