Jerusalem: The Israeli government is moving
ahead with plans to build nearly 1,300 new apartments in
disputed east Jerusalem, an official said today, a step that
could complicate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s meetings
with American officials in the United States.
Israel`s Interior Ministry said the decision to seek
public comment on the building plans was merely a procedural
step, and that actual construction was likely years away.
Nonetheless, it cast a shadow over Netanyahu`s visit -- in
which he is speaking to American officials on how to revive
peace talks that have stalled over Israeli settlement
With the announcement, Israel risked setting off
another run-in with Vice President Joe Biden, who met with
Netanyahu in New Orleans yesterday. Israel infuriated Biden
early this year by announcing construction plans in east
Jerusalem while the vice president was visiting.
There was no immediate US reaction to today`s
The US, along with the rest of the international
community, opposes Israeli settlement construction in the West
Bank and east Jerusalem -- captured territories claimed by the
Washington is already frustrated over Netanyahu`s
refusal to renew curbs on settlement construction in the West
Bank that expired in September. The Palestinians say they will
walk away from peace talks, relaunched just two months ago, if
the building restrictions aren`t renewed.
Netanyahu`s talks with Biden, and later this week with
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, are aimed at
finding a compromise to restart peace talks.
News of the new building plans came from Israel`s
Interior Ministry, which is controlled by the ultra-Orthodox
religious party Shas, and it was not known whether Netanyahu
was told about it ahead of time. His office had no immediate
Interior Ministry official Efrat Orbach said the plans
to build 978 apartments in the Har Homa neighbourhood and 320
in the neighbourhood of Ramot were approved six months ago but
that for unspecified "technical reasons" the ministry only
recently published the plans to give the public an opportunity
She denied the timing of the move had anything to do
with Netanyahu`s US trip and said it would take years before
actual construction would begin.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said regardless of
when the building actually takes place, the latest Israeli
move was a sign of bad faith.