U.S. Official: Israel's Actions in East Jerusalem Go Against Mideast Peace Efforts

Comment by U.S. State Department official comes after Israel approves construction of new buildings in Sheikh Jarrah, declares foundation of a new East Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood.

Israel's continued East Jerusalem construction hurts efforts to advance Middle East peace, a U.S. State Department official said on Wednesday, adding that those actions contradicted the logic of a reasonable agreement on the capital's future status.

Shepherd Hotel - Reuters - 10/1/2011

The comment came on Monday after the Jerusalem Municipal Committee for Planning and Building approved the construction of two buildings that will include 13 apartments for Jewish residents in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

Backing the plan are settler organizations who currently occupy three homes in the neighborhood. Following the plan's approval, it will be necessary to evict a number of Palestinian families living on the site in order for construction to commence.

The planning committee is also expected to approve a new access road south of Har Homa, which will enable the expansion of the neighborhood.

In addition, earlier this month workers broke ground at the site of a new East Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood in a ceremony attended by Knesset members, Jerusalem councilmen, as well as former U.S. GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

Initial construction for the new neighborhood, called Beit Orot and located near the Beit Orot Yeshiva on Mount Scopus, called for 24 new housing units to be built near the Augusta Victoria Hospital.

Speaking to Haaretz on Wednesday, a State Department official denounced Israel's continued construction in East Jerusalem, saying "unilateral" Israeli actions "in Sheikh Jarrah and previously in Beit Orot, work against efforts to resume direct negotiations and contradict the logic of a reasonable and necessary agreement between the parties on the status of Jerusalem."

"No Palestinians have yet been evicted in connection with this project, but as envisioned the project would involve the eviction of two Arab families and the demolition of their homes," the U.S. official said.

The official, however, did add that the U.S. would "continue to press ahead with the parties to resolve the core issues, including Jerusalem, in the context of a peace agreement."

Speaking at the ceremony at the site of the future neighborhood of Beit Orot last month, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz said that not only is construction in Jerusalem "not an impediment to peace, it brings it closer," adding that the more Israel builds "the more peace there will be."

"That is why this neighborhood is only the cornerstone. It will serve as a model for the resurgence of Jerusalem's construction swing," Hershkowitz said.

Huckabee a presidential candidate in 2008 said that it was inconceivable to him, as an American, that there's a discussion over where in Jerusalem a Jew can or cannot live.