An Israeli planning committee has advanced a plan to build 69 housing units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa, according to Israel Radio, despite US efforts to revive peace talks.
The Jerusalem municipality said on Wednesday that the construction project, which was built more than a decade ago and now houses 12,000 Israelis, was not new and had already passed earlier planning stages.
Palestinian officials condemned the latest authorization as a “message” to US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is trying to revive long-stalled Middle East peace negotiations.
Har Homa is a particularly contentious area on Jerusalem’s southern outskirts where construction is likely to have a serious impact on the sector’s boundary with the West Bank, experts say.
Brachie Sprung, a spokeswoman for the Israeli municipality in Jerusalem, said the city planning commission had also issued building permits for 22 homes in two Palestinian-populated districts along with the 69 housing units in Har Homa.
Palestinians say Israel must stop building settlements before peace talks resume.
“Resumption of negotiation requires a cessation of all settlement activities,” the Palestine Liberation Organization said in a statement this week.
Israel’s housing minister said this month that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had quietly halted housing starts in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since March, but has continued with projects already under way.
‘Urgent’ Peace Talks
On his fifth visit to the region since he took office in February, Kerry is due to start another round of shuttle diplomacy on Thursday between Jerusalem and the central West Bank city of Ramallah.
“I’m not setting any deadlines. We purposefully wanted to avoid deadlines. Deadlines can become self-imposed hurdles and, in fact, impediments to actually making progress,” Kerry said.
He said there was a certain urgency for leaders “to make some hard decisions.”
“Now why is it urgent? It is urgent because time is the enemy of a peace process,” Kerry said.
In Washington, Patrick Ventrell, the acting deputy spokesperson for US State Department, declined to answer a question about the new settlements, but said Kerry planned to “sit down and meet with both sides.”
“The secretary is very focused on getting both sides back to the table,” Ventrell said.
Settlement construction has been a main stumbling block in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aimed at establishing a Palestinian state on land Israel occupied in the 1967 war.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem soon after the war in a move never recognized internationally.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be capital of the state they seek in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. They say Israel must stop building settlements before peace talks resume.
(Agencies and Aljazeera.com)