Israel will not stop building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the newest round of negotiations with the Palestinians, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar told a group of students in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim Tuesday.
“There are over 300,000 Jews living in the settlements,” he said, according to Israel Radio. “[Construction in] the settlements cannot and will not be frozen.”
Sa’ar’s comments came on the heels of Jerusalem’s approval on Sunday of plans to lay down infrastructure for 1,500 housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. The same project became a controversial flashpoint when Israel first approved plans for development in 2010 during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden.
City Spokeswoman Brachie Sprung characterized the move as a “standard and bureaucratic process,” and said that actual construction is still years away.
Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi, however, said Monday that Israel was playing a “dangerous game” by “pushing ahead with infrastructure as though this is not a basic part of settlement activity.”
Earlier in August, the Israeli Housing Ministry also gave final approval for 1,187 housing units in various neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem following the 1967 war and claims the area as an inseparable part of its capital. The Palestinians also claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their hoped-for state. About 200,000 Jews and roughly 250,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem, which is home to sensitive Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites.
Palestinian officials have threatened that continued settlement construction could threaten recently restarted peace talks.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams began direct peace talks July 31 in Washington after a five-year stalemate and held their most recent meeting Monday. The US denied reports that the Palestinians had called off negotiations in the wake of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police that resulted in the deaths of three Palestinians Monday, and the sides met in Jericho later Monday, according to the Maan Palestinian news agency.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.