Beit El
Beit El Israel news photo

The Palestinian Authority has expressed anger, once again, after Israel signed off on plans for 296 new homes in the Binyamin region town of Beit El.

On Thursday, the Civil Administration gave its preliminary approval for the construction of the 296 homes, based on the agreement that was reached with the residents of the town’s Ulpana neighborhood.

In the summer of 2012, the residents agreed to leave their homes non-violently, after the Supreme Court accepted the claim of an Arab man living under the Palestinian Authority, who claimed ownership of the land they sit on, and ordered the homes to be demolished. The land had been purchased from a second Arab man of the same name, but the new claimant said the original seller was not the true owner.

In return for the residents leaving, the government promised to build 300 new homes in Beit El.

The PLO’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said the move sent a clear message to Washington that Israel was not interested in resuming the frozen direct talks.

"We condemn this new decision which is proof that the Israeli government wants to sabotage and ruin the U.S. administration's efforts to revive the peace process," he told AFP on Thursday.

“This is a message to the American administration and a blow to the peace process," Erekat said, suggesting it would drag the region towards violence rather than peace.

The PA has refused to sit down for peace talks with Israel for the past four years, even when Israel imposed a ten-month construction freeze on new Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria.

Instead of negotiating, PA Chairman Abbas has continued to impose more preconditions on talks.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is in charge of the negotiations with the PA, sought to play down the  development, news of which reached her as she was meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome.

"There is no need for this to become a pretext for drama or anger," she told Army Radio, saying she had updated the Americans about the development.

Earlier this week it was reported that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had met Housing Minister Uri Ariel and asked him to halt promotion of new projects in Judea and Samaria, including by no longer putting up for bids tenders on new projects. The move meant that Netanyahu was essentially ordering another construction freeze.

However, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said on Thursday that "There will be no construction freeze in the Land of Israel. Not in Jerusalem and not in Judea and Samaria. We proved in the past that freezing construction does not advance peace, and therefore we will continue to build throughout the Land of Israel."