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White House decries Israel's plan to build homes in East Jerusalem

The Israeli government says the 700 houses for Jewish families in the Palestinian-dominated area are not subject to its recently announced construction moratorium.

December 29, 2009|By Edmund Sanders
  • Palestinians work on a construction site in the Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa in East Jerusalem. Israel's Housing Ministry unveiled plans to add homes in three neighborhoods Israel annexed to Jerusalem after capturing the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East War.
Palestinians work on a construction site in the Jewish neighborhood of… (Dan Balilty / Associated…)

Reporting from Jerusalem — An Israeli government plan to build nearly 700 homes for Jewish families in Palestinian-dominated East Jerusalem drew fire Monday from the Obama administration, which called the plan a hindrance to relaunching peace talks.

"The United States opposes new Israeli construction in East Jerusalem," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, calling on Israelis and Palestinians to return to U.S.-brokered talks. "Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally preempt, or appear to preempt, negotiations."

Israel's Housing Ministry unveiled plans Monday to expand housing in three mostly Jewish neighborhoods that Israel annexed to Jerusalem after capturing the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East War. Israelis view the neighborhoods as part of Jerusalem, but to Palestinians and most of the international community, the Jewish enclaves are illegal settlements on occupied land.

Israel defended the project, which came on the heels of a similar plan announced last month to construct 900 homes in the Gilo neighborhood, also captured in 1967.

Officials said construction in East Jerusalem is not part of its recent pledge to limit settlement growth in the West Bank. After heavy U.S. lobbying, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed in November to restrict some new construction in the West Bank for 10 months.

"We, however, make a clear distinction between the West Bank and Jerusalem," said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. "Jerusalem is Israel's capital and will continue to be so. It's legally part of Israel."

The Obama administration, which has called for Israel to halt all construction on land occupied after 1967, said the future of Jerusalem should be determined only through peace talks.

"We believe that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem and safeguard its status for people around the world," Gibbs said.

Palestinian leaders, who want a total construction freeze before returning to peace talks, said Israel's insistence on expanding Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem raised questions about its commitment to reaching a peace deal. Palestinians hope to make East Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state.

"Every decision Israel takes to construct more illegal settlements makes a mockery of its so-called settlement moratorium," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

Erekat called on the U.S. and the international community to pressure Israel to halt all settlement construction.

"Without this," he said, "negotiations cannot resume."

edmund.sanders @latimes.com

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