Make room: Israel cuts into East Jerusalem

More countries have lined up to condemn Israel’s plan to construct another 1,100 houses in the disputed area of East Jerusalem. Senior diplomats agree that the move will set back any prospect of a peace process between Israel and Palestine.

According to a statement by Israel's Interior Ministry, the homes would be built in Gilo, a Jewish enclave in southeast Jerusalem.

Moscow says it is “very concerned” about the construction plan which comes as the Middle East Quartet  discusses ways to resume Israeli-Palestinian talks. “We hope that construction plans in East Jerusalem will be revised,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

China said on Wednesday it "deeply regrets" Israeli plans and urged it “to act prudently."

"China deeply regrets and opposes Israel's approval of plans for expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a briefing.

Egypt also condemned Israel's plan, calling it an “illegal measure” which “represents a new and glaring Israeli defiance to the international community, which endeavors to restore credibility to the peace process.”

Egypt's Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr, who is on a visit to the US, said his country “is really worried over the steady rise in the pace of settlements construction,” the Foreign Ministry quoted him as saying. 

The US said it was “deeply disappointed” and called the approved plan "counterproductive."

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, called on Israel to reverse the decision, saying it would likely further complicate relations with the Palestinians.

"This plan should be reversed,” she said in the statement. “Settlement activity threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution and runs contrary to the Israeli-stated commitment to resume negotiations."

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Israeli decision amounted to "1,100 ‘nos’ to the resumption of peace talks," according to the Associated Press.

“There is nothing to hold direct talks about,” Jeff Halper, a political activist and co-founder of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, told RT. “I don’t think the Palestinians are going to fall into that trap again. It is clear that on the ground nothing is stopping Israel. Over the last 44 years, they have made their occupation irreversible."

Israel’s Interior Ministry said the construction could begin after a mandatory 60-day period for public comment, a process that spokesman Roi Lachmanovich called a formality, the Associated Press reported.

The plan includes the construction of small housing units, public buildings, a school and an industrial zone.

The move comes days after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called for the UN to recognize Palestine as an independent state.

The bid has been criticized by Israel and the US, who say that progress can only be made through the resumption of peace negotiations.

However as a precondition for talks, the Palestinians have demanded that Israel halt all settlement construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, which were captured by Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967.

Early on Wednesday, Israel’s cabinet failed to reach consensus on the plan proposed by the Middle East Quartet, the Haaretz newspaper reports. PM Benjamin Netanyahu was expected to back the plan but no decision was reached with the senior ministers despite prolonged discussions lasting until 2:00 am.

The diplomatic Quartet – the UN, EU, US and Russia – urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume their direct negotiations "within a month."

Israeli authorities have approved the building of nearly 3,000 homes in Gilo over the past two years.

“Israel goes ahead with the settlements because it can – nobody is going to really stop it,” Halper said.