The Palestinian Authority responded on Tuesday to an Israeli plan to build another 1,345 housing units in occupied East Jerusalem by urging the world to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
“This latest unilateral Israeli act necessitates dramatic international action for immediate recognition of the Palestinian State on the June 4, 1967 borders,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement.
Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt in the 1967 Six—Day War.
Israeli authorities earlier this week deposited for public review plans to build 1,025 housing units at Har Homa and another 320 apartments in Ramot — two Jewish settlements or neighbourhoods of Jerusalem built beyond the “green line” separating Israel from the West Bank, or occupied land according to the international community.
U.S. President Barak Obama, speaking during a visit to Indonesia on Tuesday said Israel’s plans to build there would not help efforts to reach peace in the Middle East.
“I’m concerned that we’re not seeing each side make the extra effort to get a breakthrough that could finally create a framework for a secure Israel living side by side in peace with a sovereign Palestine,” he said.
Publication of the plans coincided with a visit to the United States by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and came hours after Vice-President Joe Biden addressed an annual Jewish gathering and met with Mr. Netanyahu in New Orleans.
The timing was embarrassingly reminiscent of an Israeli announcement that it was building 1,600 housing units in the ultra— Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of Ramat Shlomo while Mr. Biden was visiting Israel to kick—start indirect negotiations earlier this year.
The building issue is expected to come up when Mr. Netanyahu meets U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York on Thursday.
Netanyahu seeks U.S. promise
Israel Radio reported on Tuesday that the Israeli leader wants a U.S. promise to veto any Palestinian initiative for UN Security Council recognition of a unilaterally declared state, as called for by Mr. Erekat.
Mr. Netanyahu hopes to extract the promise in exchange for extending by another three months the partial West Bank settlement freeze which expired late September.
His refusal thus far to extend it prompted the Palestinians to break off direct peace talks launched only earlier that month.
But U.S. Assistant Secretary Philip J Crowley said in Washington on Monday he was “deeply disappointed” by the Har Homa and Ramot plans.
“It is counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties,” Mr. Crowley said.
“It could very well be that somebody in Israel has made this known in order to embarrass the prime minister and to undermine the process,” he speculated, suggesting it could also be a case of lack of coordination between different arms of the Israeli government.
But the Israeli Peace Now organization charged the timing was not accidental.
“It seems to be a calculated attempt by Mr. Netanyahu to torpedo peace talks,” it alleged.
The organization called the plans a “huge provocation” and charged that Har Homa had “become a symbol of Mr. Netanyahu`s refusal of peace” because he was the prime minister who in 1998 established the settlement, which became a “major cause for the failure” of the Oslo peace process.
No contradiction, says Israel
An Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, countered that “in every peace plan that has been put on the table over the past 20 years the Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem remain part of Israel in a peace agreement.” “Building in those new neighbourhoods in no way contradicts the desire to move ahead in peace toward a two—state solution,” he told the German Press Agency dpa.
Publication for public review is the first stage in the Israeli planning process, in which the public is granted 60 days to express objections to a plan. It then goes through a series of stages including approval by the Regional Planning Committee.
For bulldozers to start construction would therefore likely take several years, but the depositing is nonetheless seen as a major step in promoting the plans.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki—moon, who met Mr. Netanyahu in New York late Monday, and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned the move. Ms. Ashton said she was “extremely concerned.”