Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, accused Israel
of "killing" opportunities to revive peace talks, which have
stalled over the issue of settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Israeli officials said the announcement of 238 new housing units in the east
Jerusalem neighbourhoods of Ramot and Pisgat Ze'ev was part of a wider
housing plan. They said the number of new apartments planned for east
Jerusalem had been cut following criticism from Washington. According to the
Israeli officials the US protest had been mild.
Yesterday's was the first tender issued for new Jewish homes in east Jerusalem
since the visit by Joe Biden, US vice-president, to Israel in March. Mr
Biden was embarrassed when an announcement that 1,600 housing units would be
built was made during his trip.
Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Egyptian foreign minister, said that in response to the
settlement construction that Arab states might ask the United Nations to
recognise the declaration of a Palestinian state as early as next month. "If
Israel does not respect the settlements freeze," he said, "the
Arab League will study some other option aside from the peace process."
Israel captured Arab east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day war and has declared
the whole of the city its unified capital. Palestinians want east Jerusalem
as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem were not included when Israel declared
a 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement construction last November.
However, Israel promised Washington that there would be no "provocations"
regarding east Jerusalem.
The latest announcement follows last month's end of the 10-month freeze, and
the refusal by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, to extend the
moratorium – a move that prompted the Palestinians to suspend direct peace
talks. This week the Palestinians rejected out of hand an offer from Mr
Netanyahu to extend the building freeze in return for the recognition of
Israel as a Jewish state.