The US State Department criticized on Wednesday the announcement that municipal planners had approved the construction of 558 new apartments in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem.
“Our position on Jerusalem is clear,” said State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters at a daily briefing. “We oppose any unilateral actions by either party that attempt to prejudge final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem.”
“We’ve called on both sides to take steps to create a positive atmosphere for the negotiations.”
Speaking with respect to recent right-wing Israeli criticism of US Secretary of State John Kerry and his peace efforts, Psaki said, “Any rhetoric that is inaccurate and critical as this is is unhelpful.” She added, “These kind of attacks are unacceptable. They not only distort his record but they distract from the key issues at hand.”
Kerry has been trying to get Israelis and Palestinians to agree on a nonbinding framework agreement before the current nine-month time frame for talks runs out. Palestinian officials said earlier Wednesday that the decision to build in east Jerusalem undermined the fragile US-brokered negotiations.
The Jerusalem municipality said its planning committee approved building permits in the neighborhoods of Har Homa, Neve Yaakov and Pisgat Zeev, built on land Israel captured in the 1967 war and later annexed. Most of the international community considers them illegal settlements.
Brachie Sprung, a municipality spokeswoman, said the building projects received initial approval a few years ago, and that new building in Arab areas of Jerusalem was also approved Wednesday. The city said that “tens of thousands” of apartments are planned for all communities in Jerusalem, according to Israel Radio.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Israel was undermining Kerry’s peace efforts with the move. “The international community must hold Israel accountable for this policy,” he said.
The announcement of new construction was blasted by veteran PLO politician Hanan Ashrawi, who said “Israel is engaging in the deliberate provocation of the Palestinians to drive them to leave the negotiations in protest of Israeli violations.”
Israel is attempting to “ensure the failure of negotiations and the destruction of the two-state solution” with its ”violations of international and humanitarian law,” she added.
Lior Amihai of the Israeli settlement watchdog group Peace Now said the new approvals were “shameful” at a time when negotiations are in a sensitive stage.
Government spokesman Mark Regev had no immediate comment.
More than 550,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Palestinians want to establish a state in those territories as well as the Gaza Strip, all captured by Israel in 1967. Israeli building beyond the Green Line is a deeply sensitive issue to the Palestinians, who demand that Israel cease developing those areas, and to Israel’s nationalist right-wing parties, who see continued Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem and the West Bank as a priority. Some parts of Jerusalem over the Green Line, such as the Old City and its Temple Mount, are seen by most Israelis as integral parts of Israel, and by Palestinians as critical to their future state.
AP contributed to this report.