Jerusalem: Jerusalem officials said on Monday they will give preliminary approval for the building of 942 new apartments in a Jewish development in the city`s contested eastern sector, threatening to create new friction ahead of the Israeli President`s White House visit.
Although it would take years before construction starts, the project in the neighbourhood of Gilo will likely infuriate the Palestinians at an especially delicate diplomatic moment — Israeli President Shimon Peres is scheduled to meet on Tuesday with President Barack Obama to explore ways to jump-start stalled Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.
Palestinians have refused to negotiate as long as Israel builds housing for Jews in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, occupied territory that the Palestinians claim for their future state.
Israel says the Palestinians should not impose conditions for talks, and stresses that construction has continued in those areas during previous rounds of negotiations.
Obama, along with the rest of the international community, considers Israeli construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem to be illegal settlements.
A US embassy spokesman was not available for comment on the proposed Gilo construction.
Just over a year ago, another building project in east Jerusalem — announced during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden — caused a major diplomatic rift with Washington that took months to mend.
Palestinian officials weren`t immediately available for comment.
The Jerusalem municipality said the approval process for the Gilo project was expected to go ahead later Monday in accordance with the law, "irrespective of religion, race or gender”.
The fate of east Jerusalem, homes to sites sacred to Judaism, Islam and Christianity, is the most explosive issue dividing Palestinians and Israelis.
Israel has ringed east Jerusalem with Jewish neighbourhoods since capturing the territory from Jordan, along with the West Bank, in the 1967 Mideast war. Some 200,000 Jews now live there alongside 250,000 Palestinians.
Palestinians have privately acknowledged that Israel would hold on to the Jewish neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem under a final peace deal. But they want construction there to halt in the meantime because they see it as undermining their own claims to the city`s eastern sector.