PA condemns East Jerusalem construction tenders

Some 1,100 units to be built in Ramot and Gilo; chief Palestinian negotiator says new building ‘destroying’ US-led peace efforts

A building site in the Gilo neighborhood in south Jerusalem, October 2, 2011. (Uri Lenz / Flash90)
A building site in the Gilo neighborhood in south Jerusalem, October 2, 2011. (Uri Lenz / Flash90)

The Palestinian Authority said Thursday that US-backed efforts to renew peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians were doomed as long as Israel continued to build in East Jerusalem.

The comments, by chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, came in response to news Wednesdaythat the Construction and Housing Ministry had issued tenders for the construction of 300 housing units in Ramot and had begun marketing efforts for a further 800 units in Gilo, both areas of Jerusalem captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War and subsequently annexed.

“We consider the recent decision of the Israeli government to build a thousand homes in East Jerusalem as effectively destroying the efforts of [US Secretary of State] Kerry,” Erekat told AFP on Thursday, adding that Israel had “a systematic plan for destroying Kerry’s efforts which involves an escalation of settlement building, a displacement of the population of the Jordan Valley, an increase of settler attacks against our people and confiscation of our land.”

The Housing Ministry was quoted by Israel RadioThursday to the effect that the new housing units were part of a batch that had already been announced.

The units in Ramot and Gilo, both Jewish majority neighborhoods build up after 1967, were approved last year amid strong international condemnation.

The issue of Israeli construction in East Jerusalem is highly contentious, as the international community does not recognize Israel’s annexation of the territory, which Palestinians claim for their future capital. Palestinians have demanded a freeze in construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank as one of their requirements for returning to the negotiating table, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rebuffed, instead calling for open talks without preconditions.

Nevertheless, in mid-May, Netanyahu reportedly ordered the Interior Ministry to delay paperwork on a 1,500-unit project in Ramat Shlomo, another East Jerusalem neighborhood, because of international diplomatic considerations relating to the renewed peace push.

In November 2009, facing mounting pressure from US President Barack Obama, Netanyahu implemented a settlement freeze that lasted 10 months. Talks briefly restarted at the end of that period, but PA President Mahmoud Abbas then aborted them and Netanyahu did not extend the freeze.

In a speech in Jerusalem in March, Obama urged Israelis to “recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace.” He also told the Palestinians to drop their pre-conditions and return to negotiations.

Stuart Weiner and Michal Shmulovich contributed to this report.

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