Peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine took another hit today as Israel approved the construction of 3,000 homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The announcement comes a day after the United Nations voted to accept Palestine as a non-member observer state.
The United States was one of only nine nation states to oppose Palestine’s UN bid.
“We believe [Israel’s] actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations or achieve a two state solution,” said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor. “Direct negotiations remain our goal and we encourage all parties to take steps to make that easier to achieve.”
Palestinian leadership strongly condemned the announcement and repeated its refusal to start peace negotiations while building continued. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists that any negotiations begin without preconditions.
Earlier this month, Israel said it was pushing forward construction of 1,200 new homes in Jewish settlements, in an apparent warning to the Palestinians to rethink their UN plan. Israel fears the Palestinians will use their upgraded status to confront Israel in international bodies and extort it to make concessions.
Israel believes peace could only come from direct negotiations and unilateral moves would harm that prospect. The Palestinians said the UN recognition of a Palestinian state in the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war was an attempt to salvage a possible peace deal and could bolster talks.
More than 500,000 Israelis have moved to the West Bank and east Jerusalem since Israel captured those territories and Gaza in 1967. Israel unilaterally withdrew its soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005.
An Israeli official said Israel also decided to begin preliminary work in other areas of the West Bank, including the charged E-1 corridor that connects Jerusalem with the settlement bloc of Maaleh Adumim.
Construction there would place a major obstacle for Palestinian statehood by cutting off east Jerusalem from the West Bank. The Bush administration had previously blocked that plan for that reason.
Danny Seidemann, a lawyer for Ir Amim, an Israeli group that supports coexistence in Jerusalem, said construction did not appear imminent and there was “quite a lot of drama” in the Israeli announcement.
“There an element of sticking it to the Palestinians,” he said, before adding that plans in E-1 were not only a blow to the Palestinians but to the Americans who oppose them, too. “E-1 is the Judgment Day weapons.”
Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the onetime chief negotiator with the Palestinians, also opposed the moves by both groups.
“The decision at the UN on a Palestinian state is bad for Israel and so is Netanyahu’s response,” said Livni, who this week launched a new opposition party. “The decision to build thousands of housing units as punishment to the Palestinians only punishes Israel. … The unnecessary statement only isolates Israel further.”