Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Israel’s plan to start building dozens of new Jewish homes in east Jerusalem jeopardizes peace talks the sides renewed last month after a three-year breakdown.
“Some people in Israel continue to believe that the endgame for negotiations should not be peace, but rather, further colonization,” Erekat said today in an e-mailed statement. “We call upon all parties that had vigorously advocated for the resumption of negotiations to do whatever is needed to block and to punish the latest decisions made by the Israeli government and the Occupation Municipality in Jerusalem.”
Palestinians want to build their capital in east Jerusalem, home to Muslim, Jewish and Christian shrines, and oppose any expansion of Israel’s footprint in that sector of the holy city, which it captured in 1967. Israel says Jerusalem should remain its undivided capital under any accord.
Israeli Minister of Housing and Construction Uri Ariel is scheduled to attend a cornerstone-laying ceremony next week for the 63-apartment project, his spokesman Arik Ben-Shimon said. The construction was approved years ago and is getting under way now after Israeli courts dismissed Palestinian legal challenges, Ben-Shimon said in a phone interview.
Ariel belongs to the Jewish Home party, the third-biggest faction in Netanyahu’s coalition. It opposes any peace deal that leads to the creation of a Palestinian state.
Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, kicked off in Washington on July 29 and are set to continue later this month.
Talks had broken off in 2010 after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to renew a freeze on new building on West Bank land Israel occupied in 1967 and Palestinians claim for a future state. Israel has made no change in its settlement-construction policy, Netanyahu said last month.
Mayor Nir Barkat will also attend the ceremony. “There has been no change in municipal building policies for the past 40 years,” the Jerusalem municipality said in an e-mailed statement. “Jerusalem continues to build in all areas and neighborhoods of the city.”
The land on which the east Jerusalem homes are to be built was appropriated from residents of adjacent Palestinian villages, according to Erekat’s statement.
“It is clear there are some elements in the government who are looking to sabotage the negotiations,” said Lior Amihai, a spokesman for Peace Now, a non-governmental group that monitors settlement construction.