Israel OKs construction in West Bank and E. Jerusalem, riling Palestinians

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel gave the final approval to build 1,200 apartments in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank — a move Palestinian peace negotiators said could destroy chances for peace.

Sunday’s announcement comes three days before peace negotiations are set to restart in Jerusalem and on the same day that the special U.S. envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Martin Indyk, met with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

The final approval by Israel’s housing and construction minister is the last stage before allowing contractors to bid on the construction rights.

Nearly 800 apartments are set to be built in eastern Jerusalem, including 400 in Gilo, 201 in Har Homa and 183 in Pisgat Zeev. Hundreds of units will go up in the West Bank — in Ariel, Efrat, Maale Adumim and Beitar Illit.

“No country in the world takes orders from other countries where it can build and where it can’t,” Housing and Construction Minister Uriel Ariel said in a statement announcing the approvals. “We will continue to market the homes, and to build in the entire country.”

He added, “This is the right thing at the present time, for Zionism and for the economy.”

Palestinian negotiator Mohammad Shtayyeh reportedly said the announcement proves Israel is “not serious in the negotiations” and the approvals are “a slap in the face of the Americans.”

Shtayyeh called on Washington to take “a firm and clear position to rein in this Israeli attack on the West Bank and especially Jerusalem.”

On Thursday, the United States raised concerns with Israel over its approval of 147 new West Bank settler homes and its plans for 949 more.

“We are speaking to the government of Israel and making our concerns known,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a news briefing in Washington. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity and opposes any efforts to legitimize settlement outposts.”

Secretary of State John Kerry had worked arduously to get the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. The Palestinians had called for a settlement freeze in order to return to the talks.

Israel has agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners held since before the 1993 Oslo Accords in a phased release over the next eight months as negotiations progress.

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