ISRAEL: 1,100 new housing units in East Jerusalem win approval
REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Israel gave preliminary approval Tuesday to the construction of about 1,100 new housing units in East Jerusalem, brushing aside pleas from U.S. and European diplomats to delay the controversial project as they attempt to restart peace talks.
The Interior Ministry’s green light will clear the way for a significant expansion of the Jewish development of Gilo, located on land seized by Israel during the 1967 Middle East War.
Critics said the move is a setback for the Mideast Quartet — comprised of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia — which last week issued a call for Israelis and Palestinians to resume direct talks within the next month.
Neither side has formally responded to the Quartet initiative, but chances of a return to the negotiating table were seen as slim even before the Gilo expansion was announced. Palestinians are demanding that Israel halt all settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused, saying Palestinians squandered a partial construction freeze he imposed in the West Bank last year.
“Mr. Netanyahu is responding to the Quartet with 1,100 ‘no’s,’” said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. “He’s determined to torpedo the two-state solution and the peace process.”
Palestinians, who plan to announce their response to the Quartet plan on Wednesday, called upon the Obama administration to reconsider its opposition to the U.N. membership application they submitted Friday. The U.S. has vowed to veto the application in the Security Council, but Palestinians say U.N. membership will bolster their pursuit of statehood.
“The application is the only way to preserve the two-state solution,’’ Erekat said.
In an interview with the Jerusalem Post published Tuesday, Netanyahu ruled out another settlement freeze and defended the Gilo expansion.
“We build in Jerusalem. Period,’’ Netanyahu said. “The same way Israeli governments have been doing for years, since the end of the 1967 war. We build in Jewish neighborhoods. The Arabs build in Arab neighborhoods. That is the way the life of this city goes on and develops for its Jewish and non-Jewish residents alike.”
-- Edmund Sanders
Photo: Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Friday. Credit: Dennis Van Tine / Abaca Press / MCT.