Israel peace talks on verge of collapse after new settlement homes
Israel seemed to have led Palestinian peace talks to the brink of
collapse on Monday after it unveiled plans to build 1,300 new homes for
Jewish settlers in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem.
By Adrian Blomfield in Jerusalem
Published: 7:18PM GMT 09 Nov 2010
A Palestinian man sits in front of a construction site in the Jewish
neighbourhood of Har Homa in east Jerusalem
The surprise announcement earned the immediate condemnation of the
Palestinian leadership and dealt a serious blow to hopes for reviving
peace talks, frozen for the past six weeks because of a row over
It also represented a spectacularly poor piece of timing since Benjamin
Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, was on a visit to the United
States. The announcement revived memories of a bitter diplomatic
dispute with the US that erupted in March when plans to build 1,600
settler homes in a different part of East Jerusalem emerged. The
earlier announcement coincided with a trip to Israel by Joe Biden, the
US vice president, who was trying to resurrect peace talks.
Monday's announcement prompted a furious reaction from the chief
Palestinian negotiator. "We thought that Netanyahu was going to the
United States to stop settlement activity and restart negotiations but
it is clear to us that he is determined to destroy the talks," Saeb
Erakat said. "He has shut all the doors to negotiations and we hold him
responsible for destroying them."
The White House made no immediate response and it is not known whether
US officials were briefed on the matter in advance.
Mr Netanyahu's government was unrepentant. It defended its right to
build in "Jewish neighbourhoods" that it insisted would remain part of
Israel under any deal with Palestinians over territory. "Building in
these neighbourhoods in no way contradicts the desire to move ahead for
peace based on a two-state solution," an Israeli government official
The Palestinian leadership had agreed to give the US until later this
month to try to persuade Mr Netanyahu to extend a partial settlement
moratorium. The decision to build anew was evidence, Palestinians said,
that Mr Netanyahu was playing "a game of deceit".
"It's just another nail," said Husam Zomlot, a senior Palestinian
official. "We've tried to buy time and give more space to international
players – particularly the United States – to change Israeli policies
but the Israelis are adamant that they will continue the land grab and
choose settlements over peace."
Israel's interior ministry sought to play down the development, saying
the decision to build had actually been taken six months ago. Its
disclosure was only forced because of a legal requirement, a spokesman
But the explanation is unlikely to have much sway, Israeli observers
said. "Legally it's possible, diplomatically it's foolish and
politically it's suicidal," said Alon Pinkas, a former senior Israeli
diplomat with close ties to the United States.
Critics also pointed out that the decision to build was still taken
after Israeli assurances were widely assumed to have been given to
avoid further construction in East Jerusalem.
The announcement overshadowed Mr Netanyahu's attempts to use his
American trip to switch the diplomatic focus from settlements to Iran.
The prime minister called on the US to threaten military action against
Iran after asserting that sanctions had failed to persuade Tehran to
give up its nuclear programme.