On the eve of Netanyahu’s trip to Washington, Israel announced its approval to build 800 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Ariel. The United States and the European Union condemned Tel Aviv’s move warning that such plans could further hamper the current peace talks. Peace Now spokeswoman, Hagit Ofran, told AFP that the new 800 homes will encircle the Palestinian town of Salfit, located south of Ariel, in the northern West Bank. The settlement of Ariel has been a major source of tension between Israel and the U.S. in that Washington sees the settlement as one of the main obstacles to a contiguous Palestinian land. The new ‘neighborhood’ now only requires approval from a local planning and building committee.
The approval followed Monday’s release of plans for the construction of 1,300 illegal houses in East Jerusalem. The advanced plans were announced during Netanyahu’s visit to the U.S. this week to talk with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
The announcement drew condemnation from the Palestinians who accused Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu of sabotaging peace negotiations. PA officials commented that the world must respond by recognizing a Palestinian State on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem its capital.
U.S. President Obama expressed deep disappointment earlier in the day, cautioning that further settlement activity could obstruct the pursuit of peace in the Middle East. Obama also told reporters: ‘I’m concerned that we’re not seeing each side make the extra effort to get a breakthrough that could finally create a framework for a secure Israel living side-by-side in peace with a sovereign Palestine,’
The European Union joined US criticism of the Israeli decision. EU foreign policy commissioner, Catherine Ashton, stated: ‘This plan contradicts the efforts by the international community to resume direct negotiations and the decision should be reversed,’
United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, also voiced concern at the resumption of the recent announcements of further settlement activity, according to a press release statement.
The U.S. has urged Netanyahu to declare a second freeze on the building of settlements in the Occupied Territories, for the sake of the peace process, but Israel has refused allowing for further building of new homes.
Direct peace talks, initiated by the Obama Administration, resumed on September 2, reached a stalemate on September 26 when the moratorium on the settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank expired. The Palestinian side has opposed to holding direct negotiations with Israel since the freeze on settlement building was lifted.
Despite the impasse, president Obama stated that he would continue persist working on the peace process. State Hillary Clinton will meet Netanyahu in New York on Thursday when she is expected to address the issue of east Jerusalem settlements.