U.S. 'disappointed' by approval of new settlement construction
Philip Crowley: Israel approving tenders for construction in East Jerusalem is contrary to efforts to resume peace talks.
The United States expressed disappointment on Friday over reports that Israel had approved tenders for construction of nearly 240 new housing units in East Jerusalem.
"We were disappointed by the announcement of new tenders in East Jerusalem yesterday. It is contrary to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties," U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said during a press conference in Washington.
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.
Crowley said that Israel informed the U.S. ahead of time about the tenders for construction in East Jerusalem.
"We told them just what I told you: that we felt this was contrary to what we were trying to do to…get direct negotiations resumed," Crowley said.
Senior Palestinian Authority officials on Friday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of attempting to foil the peace process by allowing construction in East Jerusalem.
"The Netanyahu government is determined to thwart any chance of resuming direct negotiations," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, hours after media reported on the planned construction.
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.