NEW: The United States calls the Israeli move disappointing
NEW: Britain's foreign secretary condemns the Israeli move
Palestinians say the move proves Israel doesn't want peace
Israel says it won't implement any more freezes on construction
In a move that will further complicate international efforts to get Middle East peace negotiations restarted, the Israeli government Tuesday approved the construction of 1,100 homes in a southern Jerusalem neighborhood that was seized by Israel in 1967.
The Israeli Interior ministry announced that a district planning committee had approved the construction of the housing and that the decision would be open for public objections for the next 60 days.
The move brought quick condemnation from Palestinians who claim the land Israel occupied in East Jerusalem and the West Bank after the 1967 war as part of a future Palestinian state.
Palestinian officials said the action proved that the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not serious about making peace.
“He said at the United Nations he was giving his hand in peace, but actually, he is digging in the land to build more settlements,” said Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh.
The Israeli move also drew international criticism, with British Foreign Secretary William Hague condemning it while U.S. officials expressed disappointment.
“Settlement expansion is illegal under international law, corrodes trust and undermines the basic principle of land for peace,” Hague said in a statement. “We call on the government of Israel to revoke this decision.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the United States was disappointed by Israel’s announcement, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it “counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.”
Last week, the Middle East Quartet – made up of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia – called on Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks within a month and set the end of 2012 as the deadline for their completion.
The Quartet also called on both sides to “to refrain from provocative actions,” a veiled reference to Israeli settlement building in land Israel occupied after 1967.
Shtayyeh called Israel’s move ” a slap in the face of the Quartet and the whole international community, which is saying ‘stop settlements.’ “
In an interview with the daily Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu defended Israel’s right to build in Jerusalem. “We plan in Jerusalem, we build in Jerusalem. Period. The same way Israeli governments have been doing for years.”
As for possible U.S. government criticism of the move, Netanyahu declared that the Americans “know this – they have followed this a long time. There is really nothing new.”
In the interview, Netanyahu also said Israel would not initiate another settlement freeze to get talks started again.
“We already gave at the office,” he said, referring to a 10-month freeze enacted by his government last year.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to convene a PLO leadership meeting Thursday to discuss the Quartet proposal for the resumption of talks, but Netanyahu’s comments and the announcement of Israeli construction on land that Palestinians maintain should form part of their future state is bound to further widen the large gap between the two sides.
Abbas has said repeatedly that the Palestinians will not return to negotiations until Israel halted all settlement construction and accepted 1967 border lines as a basis for the return to talks.
Israel, for its part, has maintained that negotiations should begin with no pre-conditions.