An official in the White House reacted angrily on Wednesday, after Channel 10 News reported that Israel had approved tenders for the construction of 300 new homes in Jerusalem and plans to build more housing units beyond the “Green Line”.
The report explained that the tenders in question, for construction in Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood, were published last November, right after the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral move at the United Nations which got it upgraded to the status of a non-member observer state, and before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry began his latest push for the renewal of peace talks.
Channel 10 cited a Housing Ministry document it had obtained and which discusses the publications of tenders for another 797 new housing units in the Gilo neighborhood.
"Given the Ministry’s decision to immediately market 797 housing units on the site, there is an urgent need to complete the details of the design, as the marketing will be published in the coming weeks," says the document.
A White House official told Channel 10 in response, "We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement construction, which undermines efforts to achieve peace and are contrary to the obligations that Israel undertook upon itself.”
"It is the President’s opinion that Israel should recognize that the settlement policy is not conducive to achieving peace and hampers the Palestinians chances of establishing a state on sustainable borders," added the official. "In our opinion, the two sides must take confidence-building measures, which will make it possible to resume negotiations."Meanwhile, Yossi Deitch, a member of the Jerusalem City Council, welcomed the decision to build in Jerusalem.
"We are delighted that there is marketing in Ramot, and we turn to the Prime Minister of Israel and tell him, ‘You have thousands of more housing units in Jerusalem’. Jerusalem will not be divided to east and west. All of Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel forever," Deitch told Channel 10.
In recent weeks, Kerry has been pushing the sides to resume peace talks, and reports last week indicated that he has proposed that Israel freeze construction east of the 1949 armistice line so the talks can resume.
It was not clear if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded favorably to Kerry’s suggestion of a new construction freeze. Israel formerly froze construction for several months in an attempt to bring the PA back to the negotiating table. The PA agreed to talks shortly before the freeze ended, but refused to continue meeting when the construction ban was not renewed.
Netanyahu has reportedly put a stop to new construction in Judea and Samaria (Shomron), but has not issued a public ban on construction, and has not stopped construction for Israelis in Jerusalem.
It is also not clear if PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has accepted Kerry’s proposal. Since the last construction freeze Abbas has announced other demands that he considers preconditions to talks with Israel.