Israeli authorities gave approval on Wednesday to the construction of 243 new homes in Ramot, a Jewish neighborhood of East Jerusalem.
Jerusalem authorities also approved amendments to existing projects for 270 homes in the Ramot and Har Homa neighborhoods.
In a statement, the city stressed that the 270 homes were not new units. It also said that the city has instituted no policy changes of late regarding building in the capital, “and we continue to build in all neighborhoods of the city according to a master for both Jews and Arabs.” Tens of thousands of homes would be built for Jewish and Arab residents throughout the city in the next few years, it said.
Pepe Alalu, a Jerusalem city councilor with the opposition Meretz party, accused local officials of taking advantage of attention focusing on Israeli elections due in March to expand construction in disputed areas. “This kind of decision distances us from any chance of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians,” he said.
Israel has approved a series of plans for new homes in Jewish neighborhoods over the pre-1967 lines in Jerusalem in recent months. The Obama Administration routinely criticizes such projects; the Israeli government repeatedly insists it will continue to build throughout the city.
Israel captured East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community. It refers to the entire city as its “united, undivided capital,” and does not view construction there as settlement activity.
The Palestinians want the city’s eastern sector as capital of their promised state and vehemently oppose any Israeli attempt to expand construction there.
Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have boiled over in recent months with frequent clashes between security forces and stone-throwing protesters, and a series of deadly “lone wolf” terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman insisted last month that Israel would never consider the building of Jewish homes in Jerusalem as “settlement activity.”