ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced accusations of sabotaging the Middle East Peace talks yesterday.
This came after Israel announced 1300 new homes in Arab-dominated East Jerusalem.
The announcement was made while Mr Netanyahu was in the US to discuss the talks. Washington said it was “deeply disappointed”, the UN expressed concern and the Palestinians lashed out at what they saw as another attempt to “destroy the talks”.
The US had urged Israel to refrain from building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to ensure the new talks continued.
A 10-month moratorium on building in Jewish settlements in the West Bank imposed by Mr Netanyahu ended in September, and Palestinian negotiators have refused to continue talks while building in the settlements continued.
Israeli group Peace Now, which monitors settlements, said building in the settlements, which are illegal under international law, was now four times faster than before the freeze.
US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said yesterday: “We were deeply disappointed by the announcement of advance planning for new housing units in sensitive areas of East Jerusalem.
“It is counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.”
The announcement came a day after Mr Netanyahu met US Vice-President Joe Biden.
A similar announcement in March angered the US because it was made while Mr Biden was in Israel for peace efforts.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met Mr Netanyahu, expressing “concern at the resumption of the settlement activity and recent announcements of further settlement construction in East Jerusalem”.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has called earlier decisions to expand settlements “a systematic policy to destroy the peace process”. Speaking of yesterday’s announcement, he said: “We thought that Netanyahu was going to the US to stop settlement activity and restart negotiations but it is clear to us that he is determined to destroy the talks.”
Mr Netanyahu suggested yesterday that Palestinians negotiate without conditions.
“If you want to live peacefully next to us, come and negotiate peace with us,” he said at the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans.
“Palestinian leaders who genuinely want peace should stop placing preconditions and start negotiating peace.”
The settlement that will get the biggest boost is Har Homa, near Jerusalem, which was strongly supported by Mr Netanyahu in his first stint as prime minister in the late 1990s and which at the time led to tensions with the US.
An estimated 978 apartments will be built in Har Homa and 320 in Ramot. An extra 800 homes are planned for the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
Tensions in the Middle East are growing. Palestinians were angered this week with the revelation the new Tel Aviv-Jerusalem fast train will twice cut through the West Bank. The Jerusalem Post reported the first instance was because it was a short cut and the second “to appease Israelis who objected to tracks in their backyard”.
The paper also reported the Israeli government had sold or leased property in Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem at exceptionally low prices, helping them to cement a Jewish presence there.
And the Supreme Court this week approved a Jewish-only apartment block in Jaffa.
Arab residents had argued this was discriminatory. Supreme Court president Dorit Beinish ruled that in future, such discrimination would be forbidden.