The United States has expressed its concerns to Israel over its moves to expand housing in east Jerusalem this week.

“We urge both parties to avoid actions which could undermine trust, including in Jerusalem, and continue work to resume direct negotiations to address this and other final-status issues,” a State Department official said Thursday.

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Despite American displeasure at the east Jerusalem housing expansion, the official said, the US remained committed to working with both parties to get stalled peace talks back on track.

But Palestinian leaders criticized an Israeli decision to push forward plans for 625 new homes in east Jerusalem as inimical to peace.

“It seems obvious that we have received the Israeli answer to the American attempts to stop settlements,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Thursday. Israel has chosen “settlements and not peace,” he said.

The plan, which would extend Pisgat Ze’ev to Highway 60 with 625 additional units, passed another hurdle toward getting final approval from the Interior Ministry last week. Known as “Pisgat Ze’ev North,” the plan was deposited for public comment on November 25, which allows the public 60 days to file complaints about the project with the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee, a part of the Interior Ministry.

It will be at least one to two years before the district committee gives the final approval on the building, and even longer before ground is broken. The district committee first discussed the plan on January 12.

“We are talking about a preliminary administrative stage in the construction process,” an Israeli official said. “We are nowhere near close to the actual construction. We cannot have a diplomatic crisis every time there is one of these preliminary stages.”

The official said it would be years before any building could take place.

“Therefore, it cannot have a bearing on the peace process,” the official said. If direct talks resumed, than a final-status agreement could be reached before any of these units are ready for construction, the official said.

In every peace plan for the last 20 years, it has been assumed that Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem would remain part of Israel in any final-status agreement, the official said.

“We see no contradiction whatsoever between our efforts to achieve a two-state solution and this kind of construction,” the official said.

The moves comes just after a November 8 announcement to advance plans for 1,345 new housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Har Homa and Ramot.

Some consider the rapid succession of two major housing announcements less than a month apart as Netanyahu’s gift to the Right, ahead of a possible construction freeze in the settlements, even though Israel anticipates that the moratorium would not apply to Jerusalem.

Left-wing organizations believe Netanyahu will try to push through as many approvals as possible in this period.

The Pisgat Ze’ev project is not as controversial as other recent announcements of construction in east Jerusalem, since it represents an expansion to an existing neighborhood, said Hagit Ofran, who heads Peace Now’s Settlement Watch Team. She said the Har Homa C plan, announced on November 8, is much more dramatic because it is planned for a previously undeveloped hilltop.


“They’re looking for everything they couldn’t publish for public review to put it through now, because of this window of opportunity that they created,” Ofran said. “It’s almost as if they’re doing it to spite the world and the Palestinians.”

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met Thursday with US Consul-General in Jerusalem Daniel Rubinstein, but he reported little progress.

Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said there had been no breakthrough, adding that the Americans would “continue their deliberations.” He said the Israeli side was “stalling and wasting time.”

AP contributed to this report.

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