In test for Trump, Israel plans 800 new East Jerusalem homes

AP — The Jerusalem municipality said Wednesday it plans to approve 800 new homes in Jewish-populated areas of East Jerusalem in the coming month, a move that could complicate US President Donald Trump’s attempt to restart peace talks.

The housing, planned for the Pisgat Ze’ev, Gilo, Neve Ya’akov, and Ramot neighborhoods, would be the first approved in East Jerusalem since Trump called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to curb settlement construction in February.

Following Wednesday’s announcement, the White House issued a statement saying, “President Trump has publicly and privately expressed his concerns regarding settlements, and the administration has made clear that unrestrained settlement activity does not advance the prospect for peace. At the same time, the administration recognizes that past demands for a settlement freeze have not helped advance peace talks.”

“As we have demonstrated in recent trips and conversations with the parties, the Trump Administration is committed to and focused on doing everything possible to advance the prospects of a historic, conflict-ending agreement between Israelis and Palestinians,” the statement added.

US President Donald J. Trump's special envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, June 21, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner arrived in Israel last month and sat down with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in an effort to help kick-start long-dormant negotiations. Kushner discussed potential actions to make progress toward “a genuine and lasting peace” between Israelis and Palestinians during his meeting with Netanyahu. But amid deep disagreements between the sides, he has not yet said how he plans to proceed.

City Hall said it will approve the 800 units in an upcoming planning committee meeting, along with 114 units in Arab neighborhoods.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said in a statement that construction in Jerusalem is “essential, important and will continue full force.”

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Israel’s move constituted “deliberate sabotage” of Trump’s efforts to restart peace talks.

The proposal is slated to be one of the largest housing projects over the pre-1967 Green Line in recent years, a period when Israel faced significant international pressure led by former US president Barack Obama to halt construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War and considers it part of its undivided capital. The government does not regard building in the city as settlement activity and has said it maintains the right to build anywhere within municipal boundaries. The state has worked to solidify its control over the area with a string of moves. This, despite the expectation of Palestinian Authority leaders that East Jerusalem be the capital of their future state.

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