Palestinians, US, UK criticize Jerusalem plan

AP News
Posted: Nov 17, 2009 5:59 PM

Israel moved Tuesday to approve a plan to build 900 more housing units in a Jewish neighborhood in the part of Jerusalem claimed by Palestinians, drawing harsh criticism from the United States.

The Jerusalem district planning commission officially deposited the plan, opening it to comments, objections and appeals from the public. Jerusalem city spokesman Gidi Schmerling said final approval was "many months" away.

Palestinians and Britain denounced the plan, but reaction from the U.S. was especially sharp.

A statement from White House spokesman Robert Gibbs criticized unilateral steps by Israel "that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations" and said the issue of Jerusalem "must be resolved through negotiations between the parties." He added, "The U.S. also objects to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes."

Responding to the White House statement, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said words from Washington are not enough. "There should be real American pressure on the Israelis to stop all these acts," he told The Associated Press. "Such acts prove that Israel does not want peace and does not want to revive the peace process."

Britain also criticized the plan to expand the sprawling neighborhood of Gilo, where about 40,000 Israelis live.

"The Foreign Secretary has been very clear that a credible deal involves Jerusalem as a shared capital," a British statement said. "Expanding settlements on occupied land in east Jerusalem makes that deal much harder. So this decision on Gilo is wrong and we oppose it."

Jerusalem and settlements are key sticking points in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it, but no other country recognized that move. About 180,000 Israelis live in neighborhoods built around east Jerusalem.

Israel insists that east Jerusalem is part of Israel and rejects efforts to restrict building there. Palestinians consider the Jewish neighborhoods there as settlements.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denounced Israel's move.

"The secretary-general ... believes that such actions undermine efforts for peace and cast doubt on the viability of the two-state solution," U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said.

In a statement, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the plan. "This concerns a routine procedure of the district planning commission," the statement said. "The neighborhood of Gilo is an integral part of Jerusalem."

Abbas has demanded a halt to construction in Israel's West Bank settlements before peace negotiations can resume. Israel has rejected the demand, while pledging not to build new settlements. However, Israel does not include building in east Jerusalem in that category.

In past peace negotiations that broke down without agreement, formulas have been raised to allow Israel to keep its new Jerusalem neighborhoods, while Palestinians would receive control of Arab sections of the city and land from Israel to compensate for the neighborhoods and West Bank settlements Israel would keep.

A main conflict surrounds the key holy site in the Old City, where the Al Aqsa Mosque compound sits atop the ruins of the biblical Jewish Temples. Both sides claim sovereignty over the site.


Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer in New York contributed to this report.