In the midst of the American and Israeli diplomatic campaign to attain a majority in the UN Security Council against the unilateral Palestinian application for statehood, the Regional Planning and Building Council in Jerusalem approved construction of 1,100 apartments on the southern slopes of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, which is over the Green Line.
The unilateral decision was made while the Quartet was waiting for the parties' response to its new initiative on negotiations, which is intended to save the two-state solution and prevent another outbreak of violence.
The issue of construction in the settlements continues to be a major obstacle in the peace process. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has announced that a hiatus on such construction is a condition to renewing negotiations. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, the issue of sovereignty in East Jerusalem is to be clarified in permanent-status talks. The international community, including the United States, does not recognize the application of Israeli law and administration to East Jerusalem. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton joined the Palestinian protest against the decision to expand Gilo. The Quartet warned that Israel's move endangers its efforts to achieve peace.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the criticism, saying that Gilo is not a settlement, but rather a Jerusalem neighborhood five minutes from the center of the capital. He noted that all Israeli governments built in such neighborhoods. Indeed, successive Israeli governments built thousands of apartments in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, and also poured billions of shekels into the establishment of settlements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
This shortsighted policy is one of the obstacles to the establishment of two states based on the 1967 borders.
A series of international agreements to which Israel is a signatory obliges the government to avoid unilateral steps on matters to be decided in final-status talks. The government must remember that this obligation also applies to East Jerusalem. Breaching it harms our credibility, undermines the prime minister's call for a renewal of talks and may prove disastrous in the long term.
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