Israel’s plan to build 1,600 new housing units in occupied East Jerusalem is “dangerous” and has the potential to thwart US efforts to restart peace talks, the Palestinian Authority said March 9. The Israeli Interior Ministry’s announcement came one day after it also approved 112 housing units in the Betar Illit settlement in Bethlehem—and a day after US envoy George Mitchell arrived in the region in a bid to reopen the talks. PA presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said the move could “derail negotiations and ensure the failure of US efforts before they begin.”
Abu Rudeineh added: “It is now apparent that the Israeli government does not want negotiations, nor does it want peace. The American administration must respond to this provocation with effective measures.” He said moving forward would “no longer be tolerable” after “these provocations” absent action from the US. “Without real and effective American pressure, adopting a position that would make Israel stop these actions, they will destroy the peace process.”
The White House also condemned the move, spokesman Robert Gibbs said hours after the announcement. US Vice President Joe Biden, who arrived in Israel with Mitchell, is expected to make a statement as well.
The Israeli Interior Ministry defended the announcement’s timing, insisting it was not deliberate. “The Jerusalem District Planning Committee…approved a plan which has been in the works for over three years. This is a procedural stage in the framework of a long process that will yet continue for some time,” the ministry said in a statement. A meeting that approved the construction “was determined in advance and there is no connection to US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel.”
Saeb Erekat, the chief PLO negotiator, expressed reservations on the recent proposal for indirect negotiations. “President [Mahmoud] Abbas wants certain answers to some inquiries he submitted to US Middle East envoy George Mitchell before indirect talks can start,” Erekat told reporters in Jericho. “The required answers are about the Israeli government’s approval of more residential units in settlements and home demolitions. We expect answers within the coming days.”
Erekat said the proposed indirect negotiations, expected to begin in days, would be futile if the borders of the future Palestinian state were not agreed upon in advance. Border proposals must include all the Palestinian territories occupied in June 1967, he added.
Furthermore, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government should demonstrate its commitment to negotiations by halting settlement activities, stopping the daily detentions of Palestinians, and freezing construction on the separation wall, he said. “If these activities continue, Israel will be foiling the US proposal and international efforts,” Erekat insisted. (Ma’an News Agency, March 9)
See our last post on Jerusalem and the West Bank.