DENVER, Colorado — The United States expressed clear frustration Tuesday at new Israeli settlement plans in east Jerusalem, in a sign of renewed tension with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
Israel approved a plan to build 1,100 new homes in a Jewish settlement, prompting an angry reaction from the Palestinians who said it amounted to a direct rejection of the latest international efforts to restart peace talks.
Both the State Department and the White House issued strong condemnation after the Israeli interior ministry said the new housing units had been cleared by its district planning committee.
“The administration and the United States government is deeply disappointed by that announcement,” President Barack Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One on a trip to California and Colorado.
The Quartet — the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia — proposed a resumption of talks on Friday, hours after the Palestinians formally requested admission to the UN as a full member state.
The UN membership bid was vehemently opposed by Israel and its closest ally, the United States, which argues that the only way to a real and lasting peace is a Palestinian state set up by direct talks between the two sides.
“We call on both sides to take steps that improve the prospects of direct negotiations getting under way,” Carney said.
“We have maintained all along that each side in the dispute, the Palestinians and the Israelis should take steps that bring them closer to direct negotiations to resolve the issues that stand in the way of Palestinian statehood and a secure Jewish state of Israel.
“When either side takes unilateral action that makes it harder to achieve that, we make our views known just as we did with regard to the Palestinian action at the United Nations.”
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland described the Israeli settlement move as “counterproductive” and said: “We have long urged both parties to avoid actions which could undermine trust.”
The settlement project’s passage on Tuesday is just one stage of a lengthy, multiyear approvals process for the planned expansion of the Gilo neighborhood.
“With this, Israel is responding to the Quartet’s statement with 1,100 ‘Nos,'” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP, shortly after the approval was made public.
Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke off a year ago following Israel’s refusal to extend a moratorium on construction of settlements in the West Bank.
Israel considers both sectors of Jerusalem to be its “eternal, indivisible” capital and does not view construction in the east to be settlement activity.
The Palestinians, however, believe east Jerusalem should be the capital of their future state and are fiercely opposed to the extension of Israeli control over the sector.