Israel to go ahead with East Jerusalem housing
Plan announced as Netanyahu visits US leaders
JERUSALEM — The Israeli government is moving ahead with plans to build nearly 1,300 apartments in disputed East Jerusalem, an official said yesterday, drawing a harsh US response just as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the United States for meetings with American leaders.
The plan drew renewed attention to Israeli settlement policies just as Washington was pressing Israel to curb construction in a bid to get stalled peace talks back on track.
Israel’s Interior Ministry said the decision to seek public comment on the building plans was merely a procedural step.
Even so, the announcement risked setting off another Israeli run-in with Vice President Joe Biden, who met with Netanyahu Sunday in New Orleans. Israel infuriated Biden earlier this year by announcing other construction plans in East Jerusalem while the vice president was visiting.
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said yesterday’s announcement was “deeply disappointing’’ and “counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.’’
Netanyahu’s office did not comment.
The United States, along with the rest of the international community, opposes Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — captured territories claimed by the Palestinians.
Washington is already frustrated over Netanyahu’s refusal to renew curbs on settlement construction in the West Bank that expired in September. The Palestinians say they will walk away from peace talks, relaunched just two months ago, if the building restrictions aren’t renewed.
Netanyahu’s talks with Biden, and later this week with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, are aimed at finding a compromise to restart the talks. Clinton has said that the settlements are a secondary issue that would be solved automatically if the two sides agree on borders.
News of the new building plans came from Israel’s Interior Ministry, which is controlled by the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas Party. It was not known whether Netanyahu was told ahead of time.
Interior Ministry official Efrat Orbach said the plans to build 978 apartments in the Har Homa neighborhood and 320 in the neighborhood of Ramot were approved six months ago but that for unspecified “technical reasons’’ the ministry only recently published the plans to give the public an opportunity to appeal.
She denied that the timing of the move had anything to do with Netanyahu’s US trip.