US Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that both he and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas were told about Israel’s new settlement construction plans before they were announced this week.
Trying to salvage the US-brokered peace talks, Kerry spoke to reporters Tuesday while on a trip to Brazil and said that although it would be better if Israel didn’t make such announcements during the peace talks, he did not think they would threaten the second round of talks, set for Wednesday in Jerusalem. He said he had spoken by telephone to Netanyahu, and that the prime minister had reached out to Abbas as well.
The second round of talks between the sides were due to resume in Jerusalem later Wednesday, hours after a first group of 26 Palestinian prisoners were released late Tuesday as a gesture by Israel to enable the resumption of talks.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu was completely upfront with us and with President Abbas that he would be announcing some additional building that will take place, in places that would not affect the peace map,” Kerry said at the press conference.
“He has specifically agreed not to disturb what might be the potential for peace going forward,” he said, referring to land that is viewed as potentially becoming part of the future Palestinian state. “We still believe it would be better not to be doing it,” he added, “but there are realities of life in Israel that have to be taken into account here.”
The Palestinians have publicly, for their part, admonished Israel for approving the construction plans, saying it showed Israel’s lack of sincerity in intending to make compromises.
A diplomatic source said Monday that Israel secretly authorized construction of 900 new housing units in East Jerusalem.
The Housing Ministry later confirmed that additional permits for housing construction had indeed been issued. The new units will be built south of the West Bank Palestinian village of Beit Jala.
The news came a day after the Housing Ministry approved the construction of 1,200 apartments in settlement blocs and Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the Green Line.
“We will continue issuing tenders for construction in Jerusalem and the settlement blocs,” the source said.
The Palestinians have maintained that the announcements represent a breach of trust in the negotiations, adding that they risk killing talks before they begin.
“Settlement expansion goes against the US administration’s pledges and threatens to cause the negotiations’ collapse,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, told AFP on Tuesday. “This settlement expansion is unprecedented. It threatens to make talks fail even before they’ve started.”