In a move that's bound to stress Israeli-Palestinian relations further, Israel's Interior Ministry announced it would allow 1,100 Israeli homes to be built in East Jerusalem. Palestinians want that area as the capital of their future state.
Reporting from Jerusalem, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro filed this report:
The homes will be built in Gilo, a huge east Jerusalem settlement. The United Nations and the European Union criticized the move today restating their position that settlement activity is illegal under international law.
The Palestinian leadership called it a rejection of the resumption of peace talks. However, those talks looked unlikely to happen in any event. Last week, Palestinians went to the United Nations to ask for recognition of an independent Palestinian state, infuriating Israel.
Israel has called on the Palestinians to sit down to the negotiating table without preconditions. But the Palestinians say until there is a settlement contruction freeze, they won't negotiate.
The United States said it was "disappointed" in the decision. According to the AFP, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the move was "counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties."
East Jerusalem was captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. Since then, reports The Christian Science Monitor, Israel has built about 10 Jewish settlements that ring the area. The paper reports:
Meir Margalit, a Jerusalem city council member who is critical of east Jerusalem construction, said city officials had given initial approval to the Gilo project more than a year ago.
Margalit said he didn't expect the project to be "an obstacle of peace" since it is in an existing Jewish area that is widely expected to remain part of Israel in any peace deal. But he said Interior Minister Eli Yishai, leader of the hawkish Shas Party, appeared to have timed the approval as a response to the Palestinian statehood gambit. Yishai declined an interview request.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the Israeli decision amounted to "1,100 no's to the resumption of peace talks."
He urged the United States, Israel's closest and most important ally, to change its position and support the Palestinians in their quest for U.N. membership.