The European Union and the United States have condemned Israeli plans for the construction of 1,100 new housing units in occupied East Jerusalem as being counterproductive to negotiations on peace talks with the Palestinians.
They responded sharply to the Israeli interior ministry’s announcement on Tuesday that it had approved plans for the new housing units in Gilo, an illegal settlement enclave in southeast Jerusalem.
The ministry said construction could begin after a mandatory 60-day period for public comment, a process that is largely a formality.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said that the settlement plans were "counter-productive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties".
"As you know, we have long urged both sides to avoid any kind of action which could undermine trust, including, and perhaps most particularly, in Jerusalem, any action that could be viewed as provocative by either side," Clinton said.
The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as their future capital.
They have demanded that Israel halt all settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the adjacent occupied West Bank – territories captured and illegally occupied by Israel since 1967 – as a condition for resuming peace talks.
Israel says all of Jerusalem, home to Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, is part of its capital and will not be divided.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union diplomacy chief, also condemned the development.
"Last Friday, the Quartet called on the Israelis and Palestinians to refrain from provocative actions if negotiations are to resume and be effective," she said in a statement.
"I therefore deplore today’s decision… I call on the Israeli authorities to reverse this plan."
The Quartet is made up of officials from the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and US.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, condemned the Israeli decision, saying it amounted to "1,100 no’s to the resumption of peace talks".
He urged the US to change its position and support the Palestinians in their quest for full UN membership.
The US opposes the measure and has vowed to veto the request in the Security Council, which took its first movements on the application on Wednesday by handing it to a committee that will review and assess it.
Like Israel, however, Washington says a Palestinian state can only be established through negotiations.
Richard Miron, spokesman for UN Middle East peace envoy Robert Serry, said the settlement plans ignored "the Quartet’s appeal of last Friday to the parties to refrain from provocative actions".
"This sends the wrong signal at this sensitive time. Settlement activity is contrary to the roadmap and to international law, and undermines the prospect of resuming negotiations and reaching a two state solution to the conflict," Miron said.
Yair Gabbay, a member of the interior ministry committee who also serves as a Jerusalem councillor, defended the plan, saying it was a step towards protecting the area from "foreign ownership".
"According to the Basic Law, which is equivalent to a constitution, this area is within the sovereign territory of the State of Israel, and we are fulfilling our duty in making sure it will remain that way, and not be subject to any foreign ownership," he said.
"Jerusalem is not for sale," he added. "It has been, and will always be, the capital of the Jewish people."
Al Jazeera’s Cal Perry, reporting from Jerusalem, said that construction was already under way at Gilo.
"It will still be about two years before the construction of the housing units are completed and settlers move into the settlement."
The Palestinian leadership said the Israeli announcement effectively rebuffed a recent proposal from Quartet for fresh peace talks.
Joining the condemnation, the French foreign ministry said that the decision was "counterproductive at a time when the international community is multiplying its efforts with a view to resuming peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians".
"France calls on Israel to reconsider its decision and refrain from any act which could hinder the efforts of the international community with a view to resuming negotiations," the French said in a statement.
"Colonisation, on the West Bank as in east Jerusalem, is illegal under international law, undermines trust between the parties and poses a serious threat to the two-state solution," the statement concluded.
(Al Jazeera and Agencies)