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Erekat: New settler homes 'destroying' Kerry's efforts

May 30, 2013 10:57 A.M. (Updated: June 1, 2013 12:13 A.M.)
RAMALLAH (AFP) -- Israel's decision to build 1,100 new settler homes in occupied East Jerusalem is "destroying" efforts by Washington's top diplomat to revive the peace process, the chief PLO negotiator said Thursday.

"We consider the recent decision of the Israeli government to build a thousand homes in East Jerusalem as effectively destroying the efforts of (US Secretary of State) Kerry," Saeb Erekat told AFP.

An NGO said Israel is preparing to build more than 1,000 new settler homes in occupied East Jerusalem as the United States strives to revive dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Danny Seidemann, director of Jerusalem settlement watchdog Terrestrial Jerusalem, told AFP that contracts for 300 homes in the northeastern settlement of Ramot were signed and another 797 plots were to be offered for sale in the southern Jerusalem settlement of Gilo, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

The news came less than a week after US Secretary of State John Kerry's latest round of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on his fourth visit to the region since he took office in February.

The planned homes are in Palestinian areas of the holy city which were occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day war then annexed, in a move still unrecognized by the international community.

Seidemann said that the plans were approved last year, before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quietly ordered a settlement freeze, but the latest steps in their implementation were leaked to media by the office of hardline Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel.

"This does not mean that the freeze is over, it does mean that Netanyahu's minister of construction is trying to achieve that," Seidemann said.

Ariel is himself a settler and number two in the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, which joined Netanyahu's coalition government in the wake of January's general election.

Although the freeze was never officially confirmed, NGOs said that Netanyahu did not want to be seen as hampering Kerry's initiative to breathe fresh life into moribund peace efforts.

"There is a de facto freeze at the moment, there have been no new units since the elections," Seidemann said.

He said that by publicizing the fact that building approved in the past is moving ahead Ariel was seeking to force Netanyahu into either giving his blessing or halting the work.

"This is an attempt to force Netanyahu's hand," he said.

On Sunday, Kerry unveiled a $4 billion US plan to boost the Palestinian economy but it met with a cool response, with an adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas saying that the leadership would "not offer political concessions in exchange for economic benefits."

Abbas himself called on Israel to "end the occupation of our lands", evacuate settlements and free Palestinian prisoners.

The Palestinian Authority wants a total freeze on Israeli settlement construction before it resumes peace talks with Israel, which have been stalled for almost three years.

Suspected Jewish extremists carried out a string of attacks against about 20 Palestinian cars in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Israeli police and witnesses said earlier Wednesday.
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