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Palestinian Authority slams Israel settlement plans

Sept. 27, 2011 6:34 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 29, 2011 12:38 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday slammed Israel's approval of construction plans to build 1,100 new housing units in a settlement in East Jerusalem.

Israel's regional planning and construction committee on Tuesday approved the plans, described by one committee member as "a nice gift for Rosh Hashanah," the Israeli news site Ynet reported.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and illegally annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community. All settlements built on occupied territory are illegal under international law.

The last round of peace talks collapsed over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's refusal to extend a partial freeze on illegal settlement building.

President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday that he would not return to negotiations unless Israel stopped building Jewish-only settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Netanyahu indicated Tuesday that he was not about to offer one.

The Palestinian Authority accused Netanyahu of "putting concrete preconditions on the ground," in a statement.

"The Israeli Prime Minister claims to have no preconditions, but with this decision is putting concrete preconditions on the ground. He says there should be no unilateral steps, but there could be nothing more unilateral than a huge new round of settlement building on Palestinian land.

"The Israeli Prime Minister told the UN that he had come to tell the truth, but it is this decision which tells the truth."

PLO official Saeb Erekat described the approval as a “slap in the face to all international efforts to protect the fading prospects of peace in the region.”

He added: “Israel responded to the Quartet Statement and French Initiative with 1100 no’s. Netanyahu has embarrassed all those in the international community who insisted that there was a peace partner in Israel.”

On Tuesday, the US ambassador to Israel reaffirmed Washington's opposition to a Palestinian call to halt Israeli settlement building before peace negotiations can resume.

US envoy Dan Shapiro said Washington had never favored making a freeze a condition for negotiations: "We've never set that, in this administration or any other, as a precondition for talks," he told Israeli Army Radio, in response to a question on whether he favored the Palestinian demand.

Netanyahu signaled that another moratorium on construction in settlements in the occupied West Bank, following a 10-month partial cessation that ended last September, was not on the cards.

"We already gave at the office," Netanyahu said in an interview in The Jerusalem Post, a phrase meaning that he believed he had done enough last year.

Shapiro noted that the United States has long opposed Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

But he added: "What we have said consistently is that we believe direct talks are the only way to resolve this conflict, and (it) can only be resolved by the parties themselves in those talks, and they should be entered without preconditions."

In New York on Monday, a divided UN Security Council met behind closed doors for its first discussion of last week's application for full UN membership as a state -- a move seen as certain to fail due to Israeli and US opposition, despite substantial support among other world governments.

International mediators, trying to salvage the Middle East peace process, have urged preliminary negotiations be held within a month.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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