RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian negotiators Wednesday expressed concern at reports of an Israeli plan to build a new Jewish settlement in a predominantly Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat warned that settlement construction "has a price and that this price will continue to grow" if Israel proceeds with its settlement plans, which he said could sabotage peace talks resumed only last week in Washington.
Talks are expected to continue next week in Jerusalem following Israeli government approval to release 26 Palestinian prisoners out of 104 it agreed to release in four stages during the talks.
The Israeli daily Haaretz said on Wednesday that the Israel housing minister, Uri Ariel, and the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, plan to lay the cornerstone Sunday for the construction of 63 housing units in the new settlement in the Jabal al-Mukkaber neighborhood. Plans for the settlement were approved five years ago but a building permit was delayed due to political pressure, said the paper.
"Some people in Israel continue to believe that the endgame for negotiations should not be peace but rather further colonization," said Erekat.
Another Palestinian official accused Israel of wanting to scuttle the U.S-led peace efforts.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a close aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said that the situation is critical.
"Israel is using the negotiations even before they start as a cover for its settlement activities," he said. "It will be impossible to have a political process while there are extensive efforts to create facts on the ground that will prejudge the outcome of the negotiations."