REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Israel is moving forward with another massive housing project on territory it seized during the 1967 Mideast war, unveiling plans to build 2,610 units in what critics say would be the first entirely new development on disputed Jerusalem land in 14 years.
Plans for the project, to be called Givat Hamatos, would expand the footprint of Jewish housing development into new areas, nearly cutting off access between Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank. If built, the project would make it harder to create a Palestinian state with contiguous borders and a capital in East Jerusalem, opponents say.
"This one is really bad," said Hagit Ofran of Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement group. "This would block the potential of a two-state solution."
The project would isolate the Palestinian communities of Beit Safafa and Shurafat from the West Bank city of Bethlehem. It would be built on land that Israel now considers to be part of southern Jerusalem. Palestinians and the international community never recognized the annexation and view the land as occupied West Bank territory.
Palestinian officials said the proposal was a sign that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not serious about resuming peace talks and is thumbing his nose at the international community, which has repeatedly urged Israel to halt settlement construction.
Government officials stressed that the project was still in the early stages of the approval process.
"This proposal has been around for years and there has been no decision taken yet, either at the municipal level or the national level," said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev.
Plans for Givat Hamatos were originally announced in 2008, but were shelved to allow for revisions. On Monday, Jerusalem authorities quietly resubmitted the plans, starting the clock on a 60-day public comment period. If approved, groundbreaking would not be expected to take place for two years.
-- Edmund Sanders
Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Credit: Lior Mizrahi-Pool / AFP/Getty Images