Israel approves more settlement construction ahead of talks
JERUSALEM -- Capping one of the busiest periods in settlement approval in years, Israel gave final planning permission to build about 900 more units of housing on land it seized in 1967, brushing aside U.S. and Palestinian objections ahead of peace talks scheduled to resume in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
The development, quietly approved Monday, is located in Gilo, in the southern Jerusalem area.
The announcement comes after Israel’s Housing Ministry said Sunday it would publish tenders for 1,187 units of housing in the Jerusalem area and in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Another building plan announced last week brings Israel’s recent settlement push to around 3,200 new apartments.
The construction announcements have infuriated Palestinians, who accuse Israel of sabotaging U.S. attempts to revive long-stalled peace talks.
“This settlement expansion is unprecedented,” a senior Palestinian official, Yasser Abed Rabbo, told Agence France-Presse news service Tuesday. “It threatens to make talks fail even before they’ve started.”
Although Israel argues it has a right to build on land it regards as part of its capital, the majority of the international community view Gilo as an illegal settlement.
U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry registered his displeasure Monday with a reminder that “the United States of America views all of the settlements as illegitimate.”
Israel’s recent construction announcements underscore the importance of “getting to the [negotiating] table quickly,” Kerry said.
In Israel, some describe the construction frenzy as part of a deal made between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and right-wing members of is ruling coalition to sweeten the planned release of Palestinian prisoners and provide political cover for the talks.
But the left-leaning Haaretz daily blasted what it called a “targeted assassination” of the talks and urged the government to overcome the urge to aggressively expand settlements whenever peace talks come around.
Sobleman is an assistant in The Times’ Jerusalem bureau.
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