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Israeli Plan To Build In East Jerusalem Criticized

(RFE/RL) -- Israel's approval of a plan to build 900 new homes in disputed East Jerusalem is drawing sharp criticism from Washington.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on November 17 that the U.S. government was "dismayed" at the Israeli decision.

He said such a move would make it more difficult to relaunch the stalled peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had equally sharp words, saying on November 18 that he "deplores" the Israeli decision.

Ban said it casts doubt on the viability of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by creating a Palestinian state.

Palestinian leaders say restarting the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace hinges upon Israel ending settlement activities on the West Bank.

At a joint press conference in Amman, Jordan, with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on November 17, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the decision saying it "affects the negotiations for a final resolution and destroys the two-state option."

Erekat said the Palestinians have asked Kouchner and France, as part of the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers -- the United Nations, United States, Russia, and European Union -- "to ask the Israeli government to halt all settlement activity."

Kouchner urged a resumption of the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Fight For East Jerusalem

The criticisms came just hours after the Israeli Interior Ministry on November 17 gave the green light for the new construction.

Israel has defended its plan, saying that the new homes in East Jerusalem have nothing to do with settlements.

A statement of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office said that "the neighborhood of Gilo is an integral part of Jerusalem." It added, "This concerns a routine procedure of the district planning commission."

Israel claims all of Jerusalem as part of Israel, including East Jerusalem, which it annexed after the 1967 war. About 180,000 Israelis now live in neighborhoods built around East Jerusalem.

Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the intended capital of any independent Palestinian state and consider all the Jewish neighborhoods there as settlements.

The latest conflict over settlements comes despite repeated efforts by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama to restart peace talks aimed at a two-state solution.

A trip to the region by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this month failed to restart the talks. At that time, Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas rejected an Israeli offer of limited restrictions on construction of new settlements as a compromise position for restarting the talks.

White House spokesman Gibbs said that Israel's new building in East Jerusalem now could make restarting peace talks still more complicated.

"At a time when we are working to relaunch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed," Gibbs said.

Gibbs added, "Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally preempt, or appear to preempt, negotiations."

with news agency material