Israel approved the building of 1,100 new settler homes in east Jerusalem on Tuesday in what the Palestinians described as a snub to a peace proposal by the Middle East Quartet of International Mediators.
“With this, Israel is responding to the Quartet’s statement with 1,100 ‘no’s’,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP, shortly after the Israeli interior ministry said it had approved the new construction.
Israel’s prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, had previously ruled out a freeze on settlement construction – a stance that is expected to further stall the resumption of peace talks the with Palestinians.
The Palestinians have said they will not negotiate unless Israel halts settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, land they claim as part of a future independent state. Both areas were captured by Israel in the 1967 war.
In comments published in Tuesday’s Jerusalem Post, Israel’s prime minister said that last year’s 10-month freeze on construction failed to yield results. Netanyahu said he saw no need for another moratorium on settlement construction.
The U.S. ambassador to Israel reaffirmed on Tuesday Washington’s opposition to a Palestinian call to halt Israeli settlement building before peace negotiations can resume.
Facing renewed urging from international mediators to return to negotiations and defuse a row over his bid for a full seat at the United Nations, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas repeated his demand for a settlement freeze first.
U.S. envoy Dan Shapiro said Washington had never favored making a freeze a condition for negotiations: “We’ve never set that, in this administration or any other, as a precondition for talks,” he told Israeli Army Radio, in response to a question on whether he favored the Palestinian demand.
But Shapiro noted that the United States had long opposed Israeli settlement in the West Bank, territory captured in a 1967 war and where, along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, Palestinians want to establish a state of their own.
But he added: “What we have said consistently is that we believe direct talks are the only way to resolve this conflict, and [it] can only be resolved by the parties themselves in those talks, and they should be entered without preconditions.”
In New York on Monday, a divided U.N. Security Council met behind closed doors for its first discussion of last week’s Palestinian application for full U.N. membership as a state – a move seen as certain to fail because of Israeli and U.S. opposition, despite substantial support among other world governments.
Abbas repeated, on his return home from the United Nations on Sunday, his refusal to resume talks with Israel without a settlement freeze.
International mediators, attempting to salvage the Middle East peace process, have urged preliminary negotiations be held within a month.
U.S.-brokered talks collapsed a year ago after Netanyahu refused to extend the partial construction freeze he had ordered under pressure from Washington to coax Abbas into talks.