New settlements hit US Middle East push

New settlements hit US Middle East push

New settlements hit US Middle East push

An Israeli flag is seen as laborers work on a construction site in an Israeli settlement near Jerusalem. Israel is planning to build 1,000 new settler homes in East Jerusalem despite Palestinians saying they will not restart. REUTERS photo talks unless Israel halts settlement construction.

Israeli plans for 1,000 new settler homes in annexed east Jerusalem are “destroying” efforts by Washington’s top diplomat to revive the peace process, a Palestinian official said today.

But Israel said the construction plans were not new and accused the Palestinians of seeking a pretext to avoid a resumption of direct talks which broke down in 2010 and which U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to revive. “We consider the recent decision of the Israeli government to build a thousand homes in east Jerusalem as effectively destroying the efforts of Kerry,” top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told Agence France-Presse.

He accused Israel of having “a systematic plan for destroying Kerry’s efforts which involves an escalation of settlement building, a displacement of the population of the Jordan Valley, an increase of settler attacks against our people and confiscation of our land.” Erakat’s remarks came just hours after an NGO said Israel was readying to build more than 1,000 settler homes in east Jerusalem despite a major push by Washington to revive dormant peace talks.

Danny Seidemann, director of Jerusalem settlement watchdog Terrestrial Jerusalem, said contracts had been signed for 300 homes in Ramot and another 797 plots were to be offered for sale in Gilo.

Both are in mainly Arab areas of the Holy City which were occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move never recognized by the international community.

Plans ‘not new’

The news emerged just days after Kerry’s latest trip to the region, his fourth visit in as many months.

Settlement construction was the issue which brought about a collapse of peace talks in September 2010 and the Palestinians say they will not return to negotiations while Israel builds on land they want for a future state.

But Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the plans were not new, and accused the Palestinians of looking for any excuse to avoid peace talks. “The Palestinians keep making up excuses in order to run away from peace negotiations with Israel,” he wrote on Twitter.

“The Palestinians recycle old claims which are based on false information. They run to the media to avoid discussing outstanding issues,” he said, calling for them to “resume peace talks immediately.”