Palestinians: Netanyahu Harming Chance for Peace by Approving East Jerusalem Construction

Netanyahu approves tenders for 238 homes east of Green Line; neighborhoods of Pisgat Ze'ev and Ramot included in nation-wide building plan despite controversy over construction in East Jerusalem.

Senior Palestinian Authority officials on Friday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of attempting to foil the peace process, after the premier approved tenders for construction of nearly 240 new housing units east of the Green Line.

"The Netanyahu government is determined to thwart any chance of resuming direct negotiations," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, hours after media sources reported that Israel was moving ahead for the first planned construction of this kind in months.

Settlements - AP - Sept 27, 2010

"This is a crushing blow to the United States' efforts to prevent the peace process from collapsing," Erekat added. "Israel is turning its back to the Arab who gave the Americans a month to find a solution."

The Housing and Construction Ministry, along with the Israel Lands Administration, released its list of 3,500 newly approved tenders set for construction across the country.

The list includes 150 residential buildings in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot and another 80 in Pisgat Ze'ev. While both neighborhoods are technically set in the northern part of the city, they are considered East Jerusalem due to their location east of the Green Line.

Another 1,100 apartments will be built in the city of Netanya, 480 in Ashdod and some 450 in Tel Aviv.

This was the first time a tender has been issued for East Jerusalem since U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel last March, when it was announced that 1,600 housing units would be built in the area despite the settlement freeze.

Israeli officials said they discussed the construction with the U.S. administration and cut the number of planned units to temper American displeasure.

The Palestinian Authority has insisted that it will not return to peace talks unless Israel ceases construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

An Israeli settlement slowdown imposed last November in the West Bank did not officially include east Jerusalem, which Israel considers part of its capital. But before Friday, Israel had quietly halted building there as well.

Netanyahu offered earlier this week to renew its temporary freeze in the West Bank if the Palestinians were to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, but the Palestinian leadership was prompt to reject the proposal as insufficient.