Jerusalem: Ahead of the second round of peace talks with Palestinians under US mediation, Israel on Sunday announced plans to build nearly 1,200 Jewish settler homes in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Housing and Construction Minister, Uri Ariel announced tenders for 1,187 new Jewish homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, an issue considered the main roadblock by the Palestinian Authority in efforts to renew peace negotiations.
The move comes at a time when Israel is mulling over a goodwill gesture to rekindle peace talks involving the release of Palestinian prisoners held for decades.
Three days before the second round of peace talks scheduled to begin in Jerusalem under US mediation, Israel`s Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel today announced that new apartments in Jerusalem and the West Bank are up for sale.
According to the Housing and Construction ministry, 793 of the new homes will be in Jewish neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem.
It includes 400 new units in Gilo, 210 in Har Homa and 183 in Pisgat Ze`ev.
In addition, Israel plans to publish tenders for 394 new homes in West Bank settlement blocs that it believes it will retain in any final status agreement with the Palestinians.
This includes 117 new homes for the Ariel settlement, 149 for the Efrat settlement, 92 for the Ma`aleh Adumim settlement and 36 for the Beit Illit settlement.
"The Israeli government is working to reduce the cost of living in all parts of Israel. No country in the world receives orders about where it can and cannot build from other countries," Ariel said justifying the decision.
The announcement comes in advance of today`s vote by the Ministerial Committee on Prisoner Release to free 26 Palestinian prisoners with "blood on their hands", who have been jailed for over two decades.
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority broke down in 2010 over Palestinian demands for a complete freeze on settlement activities in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The two sides agreed to renew talks last month after US Secretary of State John Kerry`s shuttle diplomacy succeeded in convincing the two sides to begin parleys under US mediation.
Israel agreed last month in principle to release a total of 104 prisoners during the nine months of negotiations as a gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Analysts attribute the confusing signals to the composition of the Israeli coalition government which has overwhelming rightist leanings.
The announcement of new housing tenders is meant to appease the coalition`s rightist lobby.