Israel dismisses global criticism over new settlements

Israel dismisses global criticism over new settlements Jerusalem: Israel has dismissed worldwide criticisms over its plan to build 1,300 new homes in east Jerusalem, emphasising that the Holy city is its capital and not a settlement and that the Jewish state is doing nothing to harm the peace process with the Palestinians.

"Jerusalem isn't a settlement Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Israel has never put any sort of limits on construction in Jerusalem, where some 800,000 people reside, and didn't do so during the 10 month settlement freeze in the West Bank either," a statement from the Prime Minister's Office said.

The statement referred to temporary moratorium on constructions in the West Bank settlements declared by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last November, which expired in September restarting building activities and pushing renewed direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians to a grinding halt.

"Israel does not see any connection between the peace process and the building and planning policy in Jerusalem, which hasn't changed for 40 years," Netanyahu's statement said.

"Every Israeli government in the last 40 years has built in all parts of the city. During this period, peace agreements were signed with Egypt and Jordan and for 17 years, peace negotiations with the Palestinians were carried out.

These are historical facts. Construction in Jerusalem has never disrupted the peace process," he emphasised.

Earlier, US President Barack Obama warned that Israel's new building plan could obstruct the peace process.

"This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations," said Obama, adding that he was concerned Israel and Palestinian were not making enough of an effort to advance peace negotiations.

Our difference of opinion with the United States regarding Jerusalem is well-known, the Israeli Premier's response stated.

"This, also, isn't a new development and is something that has been going on for 40 years. We hope to overcome this and continue moving forward with the peace process," Netanyahu stated.

The Israeli announcement sparked worldwide criticisms with the United Nations, United States, European Union and the Palestinian Authority (PA) describing it as a hindrance in the progress of peace talks.

Palestinians yesterday urged the international community to immediately recognise a Palestinian state in response to Israel's decision. "This latest unilateral Israeli act necessitates dramatic international action for immediate recognition of the Palestinian state (based) on the June 4, 1967 borders," Chief PA negotiator, Saeb Erakat said in a statement.

Erakat said that "those who expected Netanyahu to declare in the United States that he is committed to the negotiations received the answer, which is so loud that it has reached (US) President (Barack) Obama in New Delhi."

The Palestinian negotiator accused Netanyahu of "making it clear that his policy is building in the settlements, setting up the fence and deepening the occupation."

Erekat also emphasised that in light of the recent developments he expected Israel's close ally, the United States, to "make a clear announcement on which side is responsible for the talks' failure."

The constructions in the east Jerusalem settlement of Ariel has been at the center of controversy between Israel and the United States.

While Israel sees the as part of a large settlement bloc, the United States sees it as a panhandle sticking into the West Bank, intended to prevent Palestinian territorial contiguity.

The area earmarked for Ariel's new neighbourhood is right next to the Palestinian town of Salfit.

PA walked out of "direct talks" with Israel that started off in September under US mediation asserting that Israel first impose total freeze on building activities in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced his concern over the new construction plan during his meeting with Netanyahu in New York on Monday. EU Foreign Policy Chief, Catherine Ashton, also joined the global condemnations of Israel's decision to build new housing units.

"This plan contradicts the efforts by the international community to resume direct negotiations and the decision should be reversed," Ashton said in a statement.

"Settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible," she added. Meanwhile, the US rejected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's contention that construction in East Jerusalem does not affect the peace process with the Palestinians as "incorrect".

US State Department spokesman Philip J Crowley said that the statement from Netanyahu's office was unhelpful, and dismissed its suggestion there was no link between settlement activity and the peace process.

"There clearly is a link in the sense that it is incumbent on both parties, as we've insisted all along, that they are responsible for creating conditions for a successful negotiation," Crowley said.

"To suggest that this kind of announcement would not have an impact on the Palestinian side I think is incorrect," he added.