Israel is reportedly moving ahead with the construction of the first new settlement in East Jerusalem since 1997.
On December 19, city councilman Pepe Alalu said the Jerusalem municipal-planning committee approved building 2,612 housing units in Givat Hamatos.
Palestinian official Muhammad Shtayyeh warned that Palestinians may have to appeal to the International Criminal Court over Israel's settlement-building plans and other actions against the Palestinian people.
The Palestinians say the new construction would complete a ring of Jewish settlements around East Jerusalem, cutting it off from the rest of the West Bank.
Israel has announced several new building projects since the United Nations upgraded the status of the Palestinians to "nonmember observer state" last month.
The United States, the European Union, and the United Nations have all criticized the Israeli building plans around Jerusalem.
The U.S. State Department said on December 18 it was “deeply disappointed” with Israel.
State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland accused Israeli leaders of engaging in “provocative action” that calls into question their commitment to peace.
'Almost Fatal Blow'
The Palestinians want a future Palestinian state to include the West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be Israel’s eternal capital.
Israel has pressed on with its construction plans -- despite a warning from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier in December that new settlements would be an "almost fatal blow" to peace prospects because they would make creation of a potential Palestinian state unviable.
Analysts say the U.S. rebuke of Israel was unusually strong. Israel is Washington’s closest ally in the Middle East and the recipient of billions of dollars of annual U.S. aid.
"With regard to the larger settlement issue and statements recently and actions on the ground, we are deeply disappointed that Israel insists on continuing this pattern of provocative action," Nuland told reporters in Washington.
"These repeated announcements and plans of new construction run counter to the cause of peace. Israel's leaders continually say they support a path toward a two-state solution, yet these actions only put that goal further at risk.”
Nuland said, however, that the United States would not support a proposal for a UN Security Council resolution to be issued in response to the new settlements.
She repeated the long-standing U.S. position -- which is similar to Israel’s -- that direct negotiations between the two sides are the only way to achieve an enduring two-state solution.
Stop 'Counterproductive' Action
The U.S. spokeswoman urged the two sides to return to direct talks and refrain from “unilateral” actions such as settlement building or seeking enhanced UN status.
"We again call on Israel and the Palestinians to cease any kinds of counterproductive, unilateral action, and take concrete steps to return to direct negotiations," Nuland said.
The United States and Israel were among just nine nations that voted against the UN General Assembly resolution upgrading the Palestinians’ UN status.
The announcements regarding settlement construction have come as Israeli politicians campaign for January 22 legislative elections. Opinion polls have shown right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies appear likely to win the vote.
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled for the past two years, with the Palestinians demanding that Israel halt all settlement activity before further negotiations.
Israel has rejected the demand as an unacceptable precondition.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP