Israel’s approval of new settlement units outrages Palestinians

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RAMALLAH: Palestinians are infuriated by an announcement by Israel’s ministry of housing that it tendered 1,200 housing units in Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank, saying that the decision will derail the already fragile peace negotiations between the two sides.

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Israeli Radio reported that 800 units will be built in the settlements in East Jerusalem and another 400 units in the West Bank.

The news of the tender comes as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, along with U.S. mediators, are scheduled to hold a new round of direct talks in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

Mohamed Ishtaya, a Palestinian negotiator, told Xinhua that the Israeli decision is a deliberate blow to international and U.S. efforts exerted to achieve peace in the region, adding “peace and settlements are contradictory and can never meet.”

He warned that Israel “is only interested in keeping the illegal building,” adding “the Israeli government is ignoring all the efforts to revive the peace process and make real peace in the region.”

Halting settlement construction was a major condition demanded by the Palestinians for resuming the stalled peace talks. They now are hoping that the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will intervene and ask the Israeli government to end its settlement expansion which is illegal under international law.

Kerry had earlier considered the building of settlements an obstacle to the peace process, however, he didn’t officially ask Israel to stop construction in the Palestinian territories.

“Israel is trying to empty the content of the U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations before it is really launched,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member in the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). “After this, I don’t believe that Palestinians are in need for any meaningless negotiations with Israel.”

She accused Israeli of trying to escape from any political commitments. “Israel is giving a priority to the program of its fanatic coalition at the expense of the Palestinian people’s legitimate rights and at the expense of the peace requirements,” she said, referring to the pro-settlement political lobby in Israel.

The Israeli media had earlier reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intended to officially announce a continuation of settlement building in parallel with the release of a group of Palestinian prisoners as part of the 104 prisoners set to be freed.

Earlier on Sunday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. special peace envoy to the Middle East Martin Indyk met in Ramallah to prepare for the upcoming round of peace talks. PNA

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