Palestinians say Israeli settlement plans ‘destroying talks’

Officials slam decision to build 1,200 units over Green Line; Erekat: Israel ‘determined to force us to leave negotiating table’

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Leading Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, during a news conference in Ramallah on the West Bank on January 2, 2012. (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/ FLASH90)
Leading Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, during a news conference in Ramallah on the West Bank on January 2, 2012. (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/ FLASH90)

Palestinian officials on Sunday condemned Israel’s decision to build some 1,200 housing units beyond the Green Line but stopped short of threatening to abort the next round of talks, scheduled to begin Wednesday.

Israel’s move proved “it wasn’t serious about negotiations” and was rather trying “to topple the foundations of the solution, which is establishing a Palestinian state in the ’67 borders,” Israel Radio quoted Mohammad Shtayyeh, a Palestinian negotiator, as saying. “It’s a slap in the face of the Americans,” he said.

Shtayyeh questioned the announcement’s timing, which was delivered the same day US mediator Martin Indyk met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and only three days before the negotiation teams were set to meet for the second round of resumed negotiations.

The Palestinian negotiator called upon the US to show a clear stance and “restrain” what he called an Israeli assault on the West Bank in general and Jerusalem in particular.

PLO executive member Hanan Ashrawi charged that “Israel is destroying the negotiations.”

Ashrawi harshly condemned Israel for the settlement announcement, CNN reported. She also blamed the international community for not doing more to prevent Israel from taking such steps. “Israel is destroying any chances of peace,” she said.

“I think this whole series of settlement expansion, land confiscation will turn any peace initiative into a mockery, any negotiations become a travesty — there is no possibility of peace with such actions and plans,” Ashrawi said.

Earlier Sunday, Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) announced the construction of 1,187 new housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

“No country in the world takes orders from other countries where it can build and where it can’t,” Ariel said in the statement. “We will continue to market the homes, and to build in the entire country… This is the right thing at the present time, for Zionism and for the economy.”

Ariel has long been a vocal supporter of building across the Green Line, having previously served as secretary general of Amana, a settlement movement, and of the Yesha Council, an umbrella group of settlement municipalities.

In an interview conducted before Ariel’s announcement, top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters that Israeli construction in settlements could force him and his team “to leave the negotiating table.”

“If the Israeli government believes that every week they’re going to cross a red line by settlement activity, if they go with this behavior, what they’re advertising is the unsustainability of the negotiations,” Erekat said.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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